ESR 06:
Spill-over effects of demands for certified tropical products in Europe

Home Institution: University of Copenhagen
Principal Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Thilde Bech Bruun
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Peter Messerli
Application date: 16/10/2017-24/11/2017
Starting date: 01/07/2018 or earlier
Duration: 3 years


The objective of this PhD is to understand how certification of palm oil affects deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. By studying the certified palm oil trade link between EU and Southeast Asia and the uncertified palm oil link between Russia and Southeast Asia, the project will evaluate whether certification may have unexpected and indirect effects across the complex and globalised commodity networks. Such effects may lead to the strengthening or even expansion of systems that are considered unsustainable (e.g. involving clearing of conservation-value forests, degrading management practices or land grabbing) and hence undermine the efforts made in terms of sustainability governance.

The successful PhD candidate will apply field surveys, spatial analyses and network analyses to understand flows and institutions linking actors at all levels to processes and spatial outcomes. On that basis, the candidate is expected to develop and evaluate tools and approaches allowing to assess the impacts of certification on telecoupled systems. The research will lead to:

  • Creation of knowledge on how telecoupling processes affect the environmental outcome of certification interventions and on how unwanted outcomes may be avoided,
  • Development of new approaches that integrate place-based data-sets of a multidisciplinary nature with network analyses, and
  • Development of methodologies to attribute impacts to drivers in telecoupled land use systems.

Two secondments will take place at Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil Production, Malaysia and at University of Bern, Switzerland.


Part of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), and among Europe’s top-ranking universities, The University of Copenhagen (UCPH) is the largest research and education institution in Denmark with more than 40,000 students, 2500 PhD students and 9000 staff. The ESR will be attached to the research group Environment and Society in Developing Countries at the Section for Geography, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management. The Section is one of the largest university-based geography units in Europe that maintains a strong focus on the interdisciplinary aspects of both human and physical geography.

We seek

A candidate with an above-average MSc in Geography, Environmental Science or cognate discipline. We expect a strong interest in land use changes and human environment interactions. A proven record of field work experience from rural areas in the global south, and experience with both qualitative and quantitative methods is required as is excellent written and spoken English skills.

Do you consider applying?

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

To submit your application, please go to the the legally binding version.