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Communicating Sustainability Webinar - 9th December, 2022 2-3pm GMT

Understanding the conceptualization of nature in spatial planning: a discourse analysis of the Portuguese national spatial program

Rúben Tiago Mendes & Teresa Fidélis

GOVCOPP- Research Unit on Governance Competitiveness and Public Policies, Department of Envrionment and Planning University of Aveiro, Portugal


Humanity is facing unprecedented challenges with climate change that put into question life on the planet. Many of these challenges appear in the form of extreme climate events, such as floods and heatwaves, that put special pressure on urban contexts. Although nature is widely affected by these phenomena it's also a source of solutions for many of these climate problems. This can be seen by the emergence of nature-based literature, which points out the potential of green roofs, natural parks, etc. Portugal, as a country in the Mediterranean basin, is severely exposed to these events. This work assesses institutionalization by analyzing the conceptualization of nature in the Portuguese national spatial program. For this purpose, it undertakes a discourse analysis through two steps. Firstly, it applies a content analysis of a set of selected terms. Secondly, it applies a qualitative analysis based on a coding process highlighting five main attributes, namely nature as an economic asset, as landscape, as a risk, as a natural element, and as a solution. The results show that nature is often referred within the concepts of agriculture and forest but scarcely as green areas or their biophysical elements such as trees. The perception of nature as a risk, mainly through wildfire, but also flooding is common. Nevertheless, the conceptualization of nature as a solution is rare. Throughout the document, nature is seen as an important economic asset both through direct mention and also through the use of terms such as natural capital. Moreover, a positive discourse is evident in the dominant use of terms like sustainable or sustainability, while restraining the use of unsustainability. We believe that there is space to strengthen the conceptualization, and therefore, institutionalization, of nature as a solution and place it as a central element of the planning process.


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Communicating Sustainability Seminar Series is an international forum for presenting and discussing new, cutting edge, research on discourse and issues of sustainability, environment, climate change and ecology.