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A history of the future: Integrated Assessment Models and the evolution of climate change science and policy (MAHONY_UENV20AS)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

This competition is open to UK and EU nationals only, subject to certain conditions.

Apply to the University of East Anglia for a place to study by Monday 20 January 2020.
Apply for SeNSS studentship funding by 12.00pm on Monday 2 March 2020.

This project aims to develop the first history of Integrated Assessment Modelling, and to examine how that history can inform current scientific and policy debates about future climate change.

Project and research team

As societies around the world urgently seek pathways to a more sustainable future, new questions are being asked about the relationship between scientific knowledge and decision-making. What kind of knowledge is required to support difficult decisions? How can policymakers deal with the inherent uncertainties of scenarios and forecasts? What gets left out of calculations of future policy options, and why might that matter?

How scientists make knowledge about the future, and how that knowledge gets used in making certain futures happen, has recently been of great interest to scholars in science and technology studies (STS, e.g. Beck & Mahony 2017; Verschraegen et al. 2017). Through this unique interdisciplinary PhD project, you can make a ground-breaking contribution in this area by conducting the first piece of historical research on Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) – the key tools by which policy-makers make sense of the policy options they have before them for dealing with climate change (e.g. Vaughan et al. 2018). With the support of a leading STS scholar and world-renowned interdisciplinary climate scientists, you’ll investigate how these complex scientific tools have developed and changed over time, how they differ from each other, and how they have evolved in tandem with the changing politics of climate change.

In addition, you’ll pioneer an approach to making this kind of historical research useful and impactful for the climate science community, by helping users of IAM results to understand how these models are structured, what assumptions they make, and how they can be best used in the making of climate futures.

The project will be conducted in partnership with Prof. Detlef van Vuuren of the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. PBL has long pioneered Integrated Assessment Modelling and has invested much in understanding how such knowledge is used in political decision-making.

Training and research skills

This PhD will provide the student with a range of highly transferable research and training opportunities spanning the natural and social sciences and the humanities. From analysing the structure and output of models through to archival research, interviews and communicating findings to scientists and policymakers, you will develop a novel suite of highly transferable skills and knowledge.

The student will be based at the University of East Anglia with supervisors in the highly rated School of Environmental Sciences (, the Science, Society and Sustainability (3S) Research Group (, and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research ( The project will also involve close engagement with PBL and other environmental assessment agencies.

Studentship structure

This studentship is available on a 3.5 or 4-year basis, depending on training needs. It is also available part-time or full-time.

How to apply for this studentship

First, apply for a place to study at UEA by 20 January 2020. Please go to for more information. Next, make a separate application to SeNSS for studentship funding by 12.00pm on Monday 2 March 2020. Please email David Craythorne at UEA () for access to the SeNSS application form.

Starting date

On or about 1 October 2020.

For further enquiries

For queries relating to the UEA application process, please email David Craythorne (). For queries relating to the SeNSS application process, please email Dr Felicity Szesnat (). For queries related to the project itself, please email Dr Mahony

Funding Notes

This studentship is jointly funded by SeNSS ( (an Economics and Social Research Council ( Doctoral Training Partnership) and ARIES ( (a Natural Environment Research Council ( Doctoral Training Partnership). The student’s tuition fees will be paid and, if eligible, they will receive tax free living costs of approximately £1,250 per month throughout the studentship. For eligibility rules, see They can also apply for up to £5,000 additional funding to support their research. Other opportunities include competitions for funding for spending time at academic institutions overseas, and for spending time on a placement or internship.


Beck, Silke, and Martin Mahony. 2017. “The IPCC and the Politics of Anticipation.” Nature Climate Change 7 (5): 311–13.

Vaughn, Naomi E, Clair Gough, Sarah Mander, Emma W. Littleton, Andrew Welfle, David E.H.J. Gernaat, and Detlef P. Van Vuuren. 2018. “Evaluating the Use of Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage in Low Emission Scenarios.” Environmental Research Letters 13 (4): 044014.

Verschraegen, Gert, Frédéric Vandermoere, Luc Braeckmans, and Barbara Segaert. Eds. 2017. Imagined Futures in Science, Technology and Society. Abingdon: Routledge.

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