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Transforming diets for environmental sustainability through experimental interventions (PENCZYNSKI_UECO21CDCC)

School of Economics

Dr Stefan Penczynski , , Dr Maria Isabel Santana Thursday, April 15, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Norwich United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Data Science Development Studies Microeconomics Psychology Public Policy

About the Project

This project is advertised as part of the Critical Decade for Climate Change – Leverhulme Doctoral Scholars programme. At UEA we are generating a new cohort of 21st Century climate thought leaders with the agile and interdisciplinary skills needed to lead a paradigm shift in how we respond to climate change. These programmes will train researchers to look at real-world data in near real-time to generate unique insights into why societies succeed or fail to respond to the threat of climate change. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to an online interview, currently planned at the end of May 2021. 


Our global food system is responsible for about a quarter of global carbon emissions. Transformation of this system to lower the rates of emissions is therefore a critical part of any effective solution to meet climate change targets. The role of human diet is crucial, with a shift to a plant-rich diet potentially able to cut projected emissions by about half in this sector by 2100.  

This PhD research project will seek to understand potential drivers of dietary changes that are aimed at reducing carbon emissions in different countries. It will investigate dietary interventions in two or three countries comprising a range of socio-economic situations and food consumption systems. The researcher will gather data on real time, future, and near-historical changes in diet, and create and test suggestions for approaches that will tackle this issue fast. 

Indicative research questions 

Are people already shifting towards more plant-based diets? What data tracks dietary trends, including on consumer behaviour and social norms, effectively? 

What interventions change dietary patterns, and how?  What is the relative role of information (on health, animal welfare, the environment) and appeals to status? How can creative, arts-based approaches help, through evoking personal connections, to bring about lasting change?  

How far can these types of changes in individual dietary choices and aggregate trends reduce carbon emissions?  


With a fully funded scholarship, and engagement with world-class research centres including the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the Norwich Institute for Sustainable Development (NISD), the Centre for Behavioural and Experimental Social Science (CBESS) and the Quadram Institute, the student will be able to access an extensive range of formal and informal activities (supplementary information available upon request). Students will be also able to interact with the new cross-disciplinary £5m EDESIA programme supporting PhDs on plant-based food and health. 

Person specification 

Applicants should have a 2:1 Bachelor’s degree and a relevant Master’s degree (ordinarily with a minimum average of 60%; or international equivalents). This should demonstrate the student’s expertise in quantitative research methods and capabilities in independent research and may include subjects such as development economics, psychology, climate change, nutrition, sustainable agriculture and/or international development. 

For more information on the supervisor for the project, please go here. This is a PhD programme. The start date is 1st October 2021. The mode of study is full time. The studentship length is 4 years.

Funding Notes

Successful candidates who meet eligibility criteria (including English language requirements) will be awarded a 4-year studentship covering tuition fees, a maintenance stipend (£15,285 per year in 2020/21) and a research and training support grant. More funding information is provided here for prospective applicants: View Website


1. Penczynski, S. P. (2017) The Nature of Social Learning: Experimental Evidence, European Economic Review, 94, 148-165.
2. Penczynski, S. P. (2019) Using Machine Learning for Communication Classification, Experimental Economics, Vol. 22(4), pp.1002-1029.
3. Pettifor, H., Wilson, C et al (2020) Are low-carbon innovations appealing? A typology of functional, symbolic, private and public attributes, Energy Research & Social Science, Vol. 64,
4. Pettifor, H., Wilson, C. et al. (2017) Modelling social influence and cultural variation in global low-carbon vehicle transitions. Global Environmental Change, Vol. 47 (11), pp.76–87.
5. Traka, M. (2020) Maintaining and updating food composition datasets for multiple users and novel technologies: Current challenges from a UK perspective. Nutrition Bulletin 45 (2), pp.230-240.

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