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Tracking nature’s contribution to people for sustainability (Funded by the QUEX Institute)

   The Graduate School

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  Prof Jonathan Rhodes  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Brisbane Australia Climate Science Meteorology Economics

About the Project

Join a world-leading, cross-continental research team

The University of Exeter and the University of Queensland are seeking exceptional students to join a world-leading, cross-continental research team tackling major challenges facing the world’s population in global sustainability and wellbeing as part of the QUEX Institute. The joint PhD program provides a fantastic opportunity for the most talented doctoral students to work closely with world-class research groups and benefit from the combined expertise and facilities offered at the two institutions, with a lead supervisor within each university. This prestigious programme provides full tuition fees, stipend, travel funds and research training support grants to the successful applicants. The studentship provides funding for up to 42 months (3.5 years).

Eight generous, fully-funded studentships are available for the best applicants, four offered by the University of Exeter and four by the University of Queensland. This select group will spend at least one year at each University and will graduate with a joint degree from the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland.

Project Description

The natural world provides enormous benefits to people, with these "ecosystem services" valued at over US$120 trillion per year globally (Costanza et al. 2014). Major benefits include the provision of food and fibre, buffering against extreme weather events, regulation of climate, and mental and physical health. Yet, long-term declines in the stocks of natural assets (e.g. forests) is unsustainable if it leads to long-term declines in the benefits that would otherwise be generated from those natural assets (e.g., trade in forest products). Further, there are often strongly directional flows of ecosystem services among regions (e.g., through trade, tourism, information flows, and movement of species and matter). This can lead to high levels of inequality in benefits to people among regions, further hampering sustainable solutions. A major current research challenge is how we track these aspects to inform the sustainable management of ecosystem services. 

The United Nations' System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) is an existing framework that aims to track the benefits generated from nature and how it interacts with the economy. One recent operationalisation of the Ecosystem Accounting component of the SEEA is Gross Ecosystem Product (GEP, Ouyang et al. 2020) - an indicator analogous to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) used in economic accounts - but where GEP captures ecosystem benefits. Yet GEP and other recent implementations have primarily focussed on tracking ecosystem service benefits, rather than also capturing the underlying stocks of natural assets. Further, comprehensive ways to track directional flows of ecosystem services and natural assets among regions - analogous to the Balance of Payments used in economic accounts - are currently lacking. These limitations severely hamper the ability to apply the SEEA to assess sustainability and interregional equity in nature's contribution to people.

This PhD project will tackle this important issue by developing implementable approaches to track stocks of natural assets and directional flows among regions within the SEEA framework. This will then be applied to assess long-term sustainability and interregional equity in ecosystem service benefits using two case studies (one from the UK and one from Australia). This work will contribute strongly to global environmental futures through new methods for meaningfully tracking nature's contribution to people. The successful PhD candidate will benefit from interaction with some of the World's leading experts in ecosystem services and environmental economics and develop strong conceptual and analytical skills for solving globally important environmental challenges. The candidate will also gain experience working with policy makers and developing skills for translating research outcomes into impact.


In addition to the above criteria, this scholarship is open to Australian citizens, permanent residents and International students who are currently in Australia at the time of application. International applicants outside of Australia are able to apply but must onshore at The University of Queensland at the time of their commencement, or if Australia's borders are still closed an Exeter commencement may be considered.

Find out more about the QUEX Joint PhD Scholarship at our website.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 24 May 2021 (BST), with interviews taking place week commencing 12 July 2021.

Funding Notes

This scholarship includes a living stipend of AUD $28,597 (2021) tax free, indexed annually, tuition fees and Overseas Student Health Cover (where applicable). A travel grant of AUD $8,500 per annum, and a training grant of AUD $3,000 are also available over the program.
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