ESR 02:
Socio-ecological metabolism approaches to analyse telecoupling related to international trade

Home Institution: Institute of Social Ecology, Vienna, Alpen-Adria University Klagenfurt
Principal Supervisor: a.o. Prof. Dr. Helmut Haberl
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Jens Newig
Application date: 05/02/2018-16/03/2018
Starting date: 01/09/2018 or earlier
Duration: 3 years


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 ESR 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.


The Institute of Social Ecology Vienna (SEC) is a subdivision of the Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies (IFF) at Alpen-Adria University Klagenfurt (UNI-KLU). Research and teaching at the Institute of Social Ecology deals with the interrelationship of social and natural systems in the context of sustainable development. The institute’s staff comprises 25 researchers and 6 administrative staff members as well as a number of PhD students. Researchers come from interdisciplinary backgrounds such as biology, ecology, sociology, anthropology, political and technical sciences. SECs methodological spectrum includes material and energy flow analysis (MEFA), geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing methods, systemic actor-oriented and organizational analyses, and the use of historical sources. SEC researchers make increasing use of modelling techniques for data simulation, a synthetic presentation of results and as a basis for scenarios. SEC offers a doctoral program on Social Ecology and a master program on Social and Human Ecology.

We seek

A candidate with an above-average MSc (or equivalent degree) in interdisciplinary environmental sciences such as Ecological Economics, Social Ecology, Human Ecology, Geography or or related fields. We expect strong interest in land use and land system science and sustainability problems and interdisciplinary work. Required skills include a sound background in quantitative methods, handling of large databases, proficiency in database management software, programming ability and strong analytic skills. GIS expertise is welcome.


Ao. Univ.-Prof. Dr. Helmut Haberl

Do you consider applying?

In any case please check the eligibility criteria in the first place.

To submit your application, please fill in the requested data in the online application form, upload your application file and submit your application.

Download and carefully read the Guide for Applicants (ESR 02) and the ITN Programme’s information note for all specific information on the application and selection procedure.