International forest conservation discourses and local decisions as telecoupled systems

PhD fellow: Joel Gustav Persson

University of Copenhagen

About me

I completed my Master’s programme in International Development and Management at Lund University, Sweden, in 2016, during which I gained some experience interning with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN in Cambodia supporting the national REDD+ programme. After writing my master’s thesis on community forests in Cambodia, I spent a year at the Economic and Social Research Council of the UK supporting the commissioning of research projects in international development, before moving to Denmark.

Excited to be part of COUPLED, I will be working on the project ‘International forest conservation discourses and local decisions as telecoupled systems’, based at the University of Copenhagen. My motivation stems from experiences in Cambodia, which exposed me to the conflicting interests in the natural resource sector, the complicated role of international conservation discourses, and how these manifest in local decisions on land-use and livelihoods. Lacking the necessary tools, however, my understanding remained incomplete. The project will thus help generate important insights on the complex and distal linkages between conservation discourses and the local decisions on which many global conservation efforts depend. In order to make sense of these complex interactions and analyse related flows of information, the project will take an interdisciplinary approach and employ both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Persson, J., & Prowse, M. (2017). Collective action on forest governance: An institutional analysis of the Cambodian community forest system. Forest Policy and Economics, 83, 70–79.

My research project will help generate important insights on the complex and distal linkages between conservation discourses and the local decisions on which many global conservation efforts depend.


Conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem have been on the international agenda for many decades, but the urgency of conservation efforts are being emphasized by a wide range of scientists and conservation organizations as there is a continued and increasing pressure on natural ecosystems, especially in the Global South.  This has led to even more persistent calls for creating conservation areas, and, particularly in tropical forested regions, areas that are maintained as undisturbed as possible from humans in order to maintain high biodiversity of endemic and specialist species. These efforts translate into concrete actions on the ground and rely on obtaining goodwill from local forest users who may be dependent on the conserved areas in many different ways and to different degrees. Their decisions are crucial for the outcome of the conservation efforts and while there has been many studies analyzing mainly economic and policy drivers of such decisions, there is less knowledge on how the international conservation discourses influence local decision-making.

On this background, this research project will:

  • Analyse to what extent international conservation rhetoric affects forest-dependent communities in Laos and Thailand as a telecoupled system,
  • Investigate whether local people change land use, livelihoods, or engagement in conservation when international pressure reaches them through media or national stakeholder,
  • Understand how local people navigate when conservation discourses and economic development discourses are in conflict, and
  • Use interviews at local (community), national (stakeholders) and international level (NGOs, UN) to disentangle the local impacts of conservation discourses on land use and livelihoods.

In doing so, the research project is expected to provide a mapping of the impact of European and international environmental discourses at local level in SE Asia and a thorough understanding of the role of media in transmitting discourses and feedbacks as well as the interplay between conservation and development discourses.

Principal Supervisor: Ole Mertz (University of Copenhagen, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management)


Joel Gustav Persson

University of Copenhagen, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management

Øster Voldgade 10, 1350 København K, Denmark