Seeking expressions of interest for PhD research

As part of my current DECRA research, I have funding and capacity to support up to two PhD (potentially Masters) candidates whose interests and expertise aligns with the project. Broadly, I’m looking for people with interests in sustainable finance, agriculture, biodiversity conservation and social research skills (quant and/or qual).

There are a few options for the research itself, and this is open to discussion with the right candidate(s). Two examples are posted below. The candidate(s) would be co-supervised by a senior colleague of mine from the School of Business, UNSW Canberra – who exactly this would be will be determined according to the direction of the research (e.g what methods will be used, what disciplinary approach(es)).

Please see the Work with me page for more specific details and links to UNSW requirements, and contact me to discuss prior to working on an application.

Note that to start at the beginning of 2021, you’ll need to apply by 18 September 2020.

(1) Translating sustainable finance policy and principles into practice

Financial institutions, and particularly those whose largely rural portfolios are highly exposed to climate change and the depletion of natural capital, are increasingly seeking to factor climate and sustainability risks into their investments. Translation of such high-level sustainable investment policies into practice, however, is reportedly slow. Anecdotal and some empirical evidence suggests that regional bank managers and land valuers continue to see non-agricultural land uses (e.g carbon and biodiversity offsets) as financial risks, and frequently refuse mortgagee consent to landholders who wish to engage in these opportunities.

This research would identify what factors may act as barriers to sustainable lending and investment in practice. The candidate will develop or build on existing networks within the finance and banking sector, initially in Australia, but there is scope for comparative work. Specific details and scope of the project would be developed by the student in collaboration with Dr Evans and other collaborators, and depending on the student’s background, interest and career aspirations. This work will complement and feed into a broader project examining investment in biodiversity and natural capital, and specifically in the agricultural and conservation sectors.

The ideal candidate would have or be willing to develop skills in social research methods, including semi-structured interviews, surveys, and content analysis. Some quantitative skills desirable. I particularly welcome candidates who have an academic or professional background in finance, agribusiness, or risk analysis.

(2) Operationalising new finance and investment models for biodiversity and natural capital

Conservation finance is an emerging asset class, whereby investment is made directly or indirectly to conserve biodiversity, and maintain natural capital stocks including soil, ecosystems, clean air and water. Growing interest in conservation finance could leverage greater private and public investment into biodiversity conservation and deliver “win-win-wins” for investors, beneficiaries and governments alike. Despite high-level suggestions that project developers, such as conservation and agricultural landholders should learn “the art of the deal” and bring investment-ready projects to the table, there is little understanding of how such rhetoric is being translated to “on the ground”.

This research aims to understand how the conservation and agricultural sectors are adapting to a growth in private sector investment, and the emergence of new finance and investment models, such as impact investing. The candidate will develop or build on existing networks within the finance, conservation and agricultural sectors, initially in Australia, but there is scope for comparative work. Specific details and scope of the project would be developed by the candidate in collaboration with Dr Evans and other collaborators, and depending on the candidate’s background, interest and career aspirations.

The ideal candidate would have proficiency in quantitative methods, especially the use of surveys and social network analysis. Willingness to develop some qualitative skills (e.g semi-structured interviewing) is desirable.