Socio-ecological metabolism approaches to analyse telecoupling related to international trade

PhD Fellow: Nicolas Roux

Institute of Social Ecology (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna)


International trade of land-based products is one major process behind telecouplings. Trade is growing exponentially, much faster than aggregate global production and consumption of land-based resources, thereby resulting in growing challenges with managing telecouplings for sustainability.

However, the relation between traded products flows and impacts of land is all but straightforward. Land is a hugely heterogeneous resource due to its vastly differing quality (e.g. soil fertility, ruggedness, accessibility, precipitation or temperature) and land-use intensity. Empirically tracing telecouplings associated with flows of traded products needs to take these differences into account, while still generating indicators facilitating quantitative assessments.

This research project will be focused on using and expanding the social metabolism framework to develop robust biophysical indicators to quantify the extent, magnitude, and dynamics of telecouplings due to biomass trade (e.g., embodied land demand, HANPP, nitrogen use, agricultural labor, changes in ecosystem carbon stocks, or biodiversity impacts.) These indicators will be used to quantify and analyze the global to regional effects of telecouplings on land-use efficiency, resource-use intensity and trade-offs for the period 2000-2015. One major task will be to establish consistent global databases allowing to trace and account for global trade flows on a high level of disaggregation using bilateral (country-by-country) trade matrices for all countries with a high product resolution (dozens to hundreds of products), including an assessment of uncertainties and variability of patterns over time. The developed framework will be applied to Leuphana University of Lüneburg’s trade-related cases, in order to explore analytical usefulness in the context of governance analysis at different scales.

Expected results are:

  • a global database on telecouplings resulting from biomass trade,
  • the development of indicators tracing how telecouplings affect resource efficiency and environmental impacts, and
  • insights into the trade-offs and synergies of different strategies to manage and govern telecouplings.