Environmental impact assessments in a telecoupled world

PhD fellow: Claudia Parra Paitan

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

About me

I come from Peru. I have a Bachelor in Biology from the Peruvian National Agrarian University (UNALM) and a Master degree (MSc.) in Human Ecology from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). I have worked during four years for environmental policy making processes with the Peruvian Ministry of Environment and development cooperation agencies (such as UNDP, GIZ, BTC). I have been involved in the implementation of agricultural development projects with emphasis on sustainable land use management, climate change adaptation and rural communities. Throughout these experiences I became aware about the vital role that global-scale dynamics play over regional and local realities. Global social, economic and environmental dynamics can affect whatever is implemented at local scale and viceversa, therefore being aware about these complex interplays is essential if any initiative is to be successful. The assessment of such complexity embedded in the global trade of agricultural commodities has current methodological limitations though. Therefore, my motivation by doing this PhD is to study the indirect, distant and multi-scale environmental impacts caused by the global production and trade of agricultural commodities. I aim to contribute to the development of tools and methods able to capture the complexity of telecoupled systems to be used in environmental impact assessment studies of agricultural commodity chains.

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/claudia-parra-pait%C3%A1n-a3676765/

My research aims to develop more comprehensive assessments of the telecoupled indirect, distant and multi-scale land use impacts of global agricultural commodity chains.


Environmental impact assessments are an important means to assess the potential sustainability consequences of products, investments, spatial planning or policy decisions. Current methods for environmental impact assessments have limitations in accounting for distant and indirect impacts. Either a focus is on the local impacts only, or distant impacts are accounted for but not in a location specific manner. The inability to properly evaluate distant versus local impacts has given rise to a general tendency to believe that distant impacts are always a problem allegedly ‘local products’ are more sustainable than products sourced from distant places. Yet, it may rather be the lack of good assessment methods that prevent us from understanding the various distant impacts. For this reason, innovative assessment methods are needed to understand the environmental and social cost across increasingly globalised commodity networks and provide guidance to consumers, investors, and policy makers taking decisions in light of sustainable development.

This PhD research will:

  • Evaluate how environmental impacts of products and services in globalized commodity networks affecting land use are accounted for in current environmental impact assessment methods and how tradeoffs between different sustainability indicators are made,
  • Develop novel approaches to evaluate the sustainability impacts of local versus distantly sourced products,
  • Test the newly developed assessment methods on specific products and services,
  • Apply the novel methods for evaluating the role of interventions such as certification and taxation, on the sustainability of telecoupled products.

It is envisioned that for the latter the countries of Laos and Vietnam will serve as a case-study region. The project is envisioned to result in methods and indicators that may be actively used to inform the business and policy sectors as well as the wider public.

Principal Supervisor: Peter Verburg (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)


Claudia Parra Paitan

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Institute for Environmental Studies
De Boelelaan 1087, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands