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)

About me

From its early stage, my research has always aimed to explain the linkages between international trade and the environment, using a transdisciplinary approach. I hence first completed a double bachelor in natural sciences and economics at the universities Paris 6 and Paris 2, where I worked on the impact of Brazil’s growth and export cycles on its biodiversity. I later on obtained my master in environmental sciences from the University of Tokyo, and wrote my thesis about the resilience of environmentally friendly farmers towards trade liberalization in Japan. Before starting in COUPLED, I was interning at the METIS laboratory, where I analyzed the phosphorus content of France’s fertilizers imports.

I have therefore immediately been fascinated by the idea of telecoupling, and the interdisciplinary environment of COUPLED. I have furthermore always highly valued the collaboration between academia, producers, NGOs and policy makers, through my activism with Japan, and through my experiences in several farms around Europe and Asia. The Coupled project was therefore for me a unique opportunity to work within a network of partners from the academic, public and private sectors.

During my PhD, I want to analyze the drivers, mechanisms and impacts of biophysical flows embedded in international trade of biomass products. I will first focus on embodied HANPP, trying to explain why countries are more likely to import biomass from specific regions of the world rather than from others. Later, I will weigh the trade-offs between various social and environmental impacts of these flows, and decompose them into distinct mechanisms in order to understand how to enhance positive impacts while reducing the negative ones.

Research Gate:

Understanding the drivers, impacts and mechanisms of international biomass trade to enhance sustainable globalization.


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.

Principal Supervisor: Helmut Haberl (Institute of Social Ecology, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna)


Nicolas Roux

Institute of Social Ecology
Schottenfeldgasse 29, 1070 Wien, Austria