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ESRC CASE PhD studentship: The contribution of equitable governance of protected areas to achieving effective biodiversity conservation


Project Description

Background: Protected areas (PAs) are a key tool for combating extreme rates of biodiversity loss. We have almost reached the 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas which Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) mandates should be conserved in ‘effectively and equitably managed … protected areas’ by 2020. However, concern is growing that, in the rush to meet targets, there has been less focus on whether PAs are either effective or equitable. Recent research suggests that PAs have not resulted in reducing human pressure while, at the same time, there is extensive evidence for negative impacts of PAs on local communities. As the CBD negotiates its targets for the next ten years, there will certainly be a much greater focus on improving the equity of PAs. This study contributes to an exploration of the ‘instrumental’ (as opposed to the moral) argument that more equitable governance (e.g. recognition of local usufruct rights, community participation in decision-making) will – via changes in management (e.g. provision of harvesting quotas for specific products, inclusion of community representatives in key committees) – result in better biodiversity outcomes (e.g. less illegal use of endangered species). It builds on an international effort led by the PhD supervisors to develop and roll out a practical tool – ‘Site-level Assessment of Governance and Equity’ (SAGE), which provides data that is useful for resolving equity issues at a specific site and may also allow for some higher-level comparison. Around 30 pilot SAGE assessments in about 15 countries will be complete by October 2020.

Aims: The studentship aims to explore the contribution of equitable governance of PAs to the achievement of effective biodiversity conservation. It will do so by (i) assessing the extent of the correlation between equity and biodiversity outcome scores for the SAGE pilot sites; (ii) developing a framework for conceptualising and analysing the instrumental pathway(s) from more equitable governance through management activities to improved biodiversity outcomes; and (iii) exploring in-depth one or more of these potential causal pathways in two PAs representing ‘shared’ governance between local-level stakeholders and national-level state actors.

Methodology: In an exploratory first phase, the student will use the pilot site SAGE data to look for correlations between site-level equity scores (which include sub-scores for recognition, procedural and distributional aspects of equity) and biodiversity outcome scores (which exist for most sites). Drawing on the literature, the student will elaborate indicators for the instrumental argument for more equitable governance of PAs. A variety of such pathways could exist requiring the student to develop a typology of governance approaches, related management decisions and resulting biodiversity outcomes. The second case-study phase will comprise a deep dive in two sites to gain insights into the instrumental pathway. Fieldwork sites will be selected during Phase 1 but might include conservancies in Kenya and/or Namibia, though other locations are also possible. At each site, the student will participate in a SAGE assessment and observe progress in implementing actions to strengthen governance, and then adopt their own methods with a range of local and higher-level stakeholders to understand changes over time in governance, management and biodiversity outcomes (and links between them). In addition to completing a PhD dissertation, the student will be required to feedback findings to case study communities, attend appropriate academic workshops and conferences, raise public awareness through social media and blog posts, and publish a policy brief targeting conservation policy-makers at international level.

The student will be part of the Contested Development Research Group within the Department of Geography, King’s College London and co-hosted by the International Institute for Environment and Development. With funding from the London Interdisciplinary Social Science Doctoral Training Partnership (LISS DTP), the student will also be part of a vibrant interdisciplinary research cohort and benefit from world-class training to develop the capacity to address key research priorities and global societal challenges.

The applicant will have a good undergraduate degree in geography, environmental sciences, development studies or an allied field. They will either have, or be working towards, a Master’s degree in a relevant field (and expect a distinction or high merit grade). They should have academic training or professional experience in at least two of the ESRC’s core research methods areas – social theory, qualitative methods and quantitative methods. The successful candidate will preferably have experience of social science fieldwork in the global South, possibly in the field of conservation or ecosystem services. They will have experience of writing to high standards, and an interest in working in an interdisciplinary manner.

Funding Notes

The studentship will be funded at £17,009 stipend per annum including London allowance (rising in line with annual increments), plus fees (UK or EU students only) paid for three years. There will be funding for fieldwork and conferences. The studentship is available from October 2020.

Applicants should submit via email:
Completed ESRC LISS-DTP CASE studentship 2020 application form (please contact Kate Schreckenberg for this form);
CV (max 2 A4 sides), including details of two academic references;
A cover letter outlining their qualifications and interest in the studentship (max 2 A4 sides);
A sample of written work up to 2000 words.

How good is research at King’s College London in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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