Professor Susan Owens

Emeritus Professor of Environment and Policy at Department of Geography, University of Cambridge

Emeritus Professor of Environment and Policy, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge and Fellow Emerita of Newnham College
Associate Fellow of the Centre for Science and Policy

Professor Susan Owens OBE, FAcSS, FBA has researched and published widely in the field of environmental governance. She was head of the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. Her current projects are concerned with relations between science and politics, and with the role of argument, evidence, ideas and advice in policy formation and change. She has undertaken an extended study of the role and influence of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which advised UK governments for over forty years. She has also worked on interpretations of sustainable development in theory and practice, particularly in the context of land use and environmental planning. She has supervised many PhD students on environmental and science–policy topics.

Susan was appointed an OBE in 1998 and was a recipient of the Royal Geographical Society's 'Back' Award in 2000. For the academic year 2008-09 she was the King Carl XVI Gustaf Professor of Environmental Science, hosted by Stockholm University's Resilience Centre and the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm. She was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2011 and received an Honorary Doctorate from KTH in 2012.

Susan is currently a member of Defra’s Hazardous Substances Advisory Committee (HSAC) and the Science Advisory Council of the Stockholm Environment Institute. She has previously served on the Research Committee of ESRC (2007–11), the Council and Research Committee of the Royal Geographical Society (2009-2012), the Science Policy Advisory Group of the Royal Society (2008–13) and Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) (1998–2008). Reports to which she contributed as a member of RCEP include:

  • Novel Materials in the Environment: the Case of Nanotechnology (2008)
  • The Urban Environment (2007)
  • Turning the Tide: Addressing the Impact of Fisheries on the Marine Environment (2004)
  • Chemicals in Products: Safeguarding the Environment and Human Health (2002)
  • The Environmental Effects of Civil Aircraft in Flight (2002)
  • Environmental Planning (2002)
  • Energy: The Changing Climate (2000)

Susan has served on ESRC's Research Committee (2007-11) and the Council and Research Committee of the Royal Geographical Society (2009-2012). From 2003-2006, she chaired the Governance Working Group of the European Environmental Advisory Councils (EEAC). Previously, she has been a member of the Steering Group for a review of science in Defra, the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development and the Countryside Commission.

  • Projects

    40 Key Research Questions on Science and Policy

    The CSaP Science and Policy Studies Group is running an ambitious programme to identify key questions on the relationship between science and policy.

  • Projects

    Changing role of UK Chief Scientific Advisers: 1990-2010

    This research project aimed to explore how the role of Chief Scientific Advisors changed between 1990 and 2010.

  • 11 March 2022, 5:30pm

    Democracy and distrust after the pandemic

    The 2022 Dr Seng Tee Lee Lecture was delivered by Professor Shelia Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard Kennedy School.

  • 11 February 2020, 5:30pm

    CSaP Annual Lecture: Professor Dame Sally Davies

    The 2020 CSaP Annual Lecture will be delivered by Professor Dame Sally Davies, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge and former Chief Medical Officer for England and Chief Medical Advisor to the UK Government.

  • In news articles

    Envisaging the future of plastics policy

    In late November, policymakers and academics gathered at St. John’s Divinity School for a CSaP-facilitated roundtable on the future of plastics. The event was an opportunity to discuss the circular economy, industry challenges, and future directions for policy.

  • In news articles

    Knowledge, Expertise and the Policy Process

    A report of the discussion on Professor Susan Owens' book "Knowledge, Policy and Expertise: The UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution 1970-2011"