My research interests span across 3 topical areas: biodiversity conservation policies, sustainable land-use governance, and the management of ecosystem services for poverty alleviation. I have analysed the design and impacts of incentive-based conservation through the development of ‘fictitious’ markets for mitigating climate change (e.g. carbon offsets, REDD+), of conditional cash transfers supporting forest conservation and the provision of key ecosystem services (e.g. PES programs more generally), and studied the synergies and trade-offs between ecosystem services and poverty alleviation in climate change mitigation and adaptation policies.
My most relevant contributions to knowledge in these fields have been to: i) mainstream justice considerations in the design and implementation of land-use and climate mitigation initiatives; ii) show that such initiatives can enhance social and gendered inequalities when parachuted into rural contexts with insufficient knowledge of environmental and social-political histories; and iii) argue that such initiatives might be promoting new forms of commodity fetishism that can reproduce uneven power relations in various decision-making domains, such as the level of locally perceived rewards and the distribution of other benefits and costs.
Biodiversity conservation policies
Payments for Ecosystem Services: long-term effectiveness and motivations for the conservation of forest ecosystems (2020-2023)
The project is funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, and it is co-led by Sergio Villamayor-Tomás and myself (ICTA-UAB), Lina Moros (Universidad de los Andes) and Santiago Izquierdo-Tort (Université du Québec en Outaouais). The project aims to analyze how permanent the effects of PES programs on forest cover are in the long term and explore how PES participants’ motivations and local institutional contexts evolve and influence such effects. The project will be carried out in two regions of Mexico and Colombia, which host long-standing PES programs but have differing institutional contexts. We will adopt a multi-disciplinary approach that integrates quantitative land-use system science and social science methods. We hope to advance environmental and conservation science by, first, shedding light on the effectiveness of the studied PES programs; second, revealing the linkages and interactions between forest cover, motivations and the broader institutional context; and, finally, generating a database of people’s motivations to conserve forests at family-household level, which can will be used as a baseline for future research. More information can be found here.
The roll-out of market-based environmental management in the European Union (2015-2017)
This was a joint research project between the University of Indiana, the University of Wisconsin and ICTA-UAB, funded by the National Science Foundation of the USA. It analysed the development of biodiversity offsetting policies in the EU, with a particular focus on Germany, Spain and the UK. The project shed light on how EU policy-makers, ecological entrepreneurs, scientists, and activists understand and use the science underlying mitigation and offset banking to pursue their own agendas, and to what extent do the geographic variegations in national and sub-national contexts lead to policies, metrics, and accounting practices that are distinct from each other and from the US model. The project is expected to deliver important insights for the future of the EU’s no-net loss policy.
Integrating valuation, markets and policies for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services (2012-2015)
This project was funded by the EU BIODIVERSA programme and it involved six European institutions. It examined the emergence of market-based instruments for biodiversity conservation worldwide. The UAB team, which included one post-doctoral researcher, one PhD candidate and myself, coordinated Work Package 2 and contributed to the analysis of 3 case studies of payments for ecosystem services located in Europe (Germany and Belgium), 4 cases in Latin America (Mexico, Nicaragua and Guatemala), and 2 cases in Asia (Cambodia and Indonesia).
Institutional design and effectiveness of Mexico’s programme of Payments for Ecosystem Services (2006-2007)
PES programs have proliferated in Latin America over the last decade. The Mexican government established in 2004 a program to reward farmers for the development of carbon sequestration reforestation projects, biodiversity conservation projects and agroforestry systems. The program has evolved over the years and it is now part of a wider strategic forest development program known as ProÁrbol. This research was funded by the British Academy of Sciences and investigated whether the carbon forestry program was achieving its expected environmental and social goals. The results of this work contributed to re-design the program procedures and informed the development of similar schemes in the region.
Sustainable land-use governance
Leading Sustainability Transitions in Rural Spain, SUSTAIN (2023-2024)
Spain is confronted with a sustainability transition paradox. On the one hand, many rural regions are highly vulnerable to interacting socio-demographic and environmental problems. On the other, such vulnerability makes of those regions a unique niche for the experimentation with new, alternative forms of sustainable development. This project aims to tackle this paradox by better understanding the influence of rural vulnerability in sustainability transitions, and by experimenting with new tools for innovative rural development planning and evaluation, paying specific attention to the positionality of women, immigrants, and the elderly. SUSTAIN will also focus and on the European rural development LEADER program and explore ways to strengthen its still rather limited capacity to spark more sustainable and inclusive development alternatives and promote socio-ecological transitions. The project is led by myself and Dr. Villamayor-Tomás (ICTA-UAB) and myself, and it is funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation.
Socio-Environmental Vulnerability in Rural Spain, SEVERAS (2020-2022)
Rural areas in Spain are experiencing unprecedented environmental and social changes. Climate change and biodiversity loss are occurring alongside depopulation and the abandonment and intensification of rural landscapes. The project aims to develop country-wide and regional indexes of socio-environmental vulnerability in rural Spain and use them to explore policies that can reduce such vulnerability. The project will assemble so far disconnected climatic, census, land-use and rural development data into a unique socio-environmental database. The indexes will be elaborated and validated with key stakeholders through participatory planning workshops (“rural vulnerability laboratories”) where rural citizens and policy makers will also co-design policies aimed at reducing vulnerability. Overall, the project expects to advance our understanding on the compounded effects of socio-environmental drivers of rural vulnerability; provide a new quantitative tool for rural development diagnosis and policy making in Spain; and empower rural citizens by involving them in the development of the indexes and new policies. The project is co-led by Dr. Villamayor-Tomás (ICTA-UAB), Dr. Ravera (University of Vic) and myself, and it is funded by La Caixa Foundation.
Operationalising Telecouplings for Solving Sustainability Challenges for Land Use (2018-2021)
This EU-funded Innovative Training Network (ITN) project has brought together 15 PhD researchers and 20 partner organizations (both academic and non-academic) to conduct exciting and innovative empirical research on land-use telecouplings and spillovers worldwide and in specific countries, regions and localities. It is increasingly recognized that land systems are inherently dynamic, and that land uses are determined by both demand from proximal and/or distant places, as well as by local and national interests and institutions. Land systems are increasingly coupled across large distances via flows of biomass, capital, information and regulations, and to understand these flows, their interactions and their consequences both for land, people and welfare a new generation of scientists and entrepreneurs is needed. Within COUPLED, I (co-)supervise two specific research projects focused on: i) understanding financial and information flows in forestry investments in Argentina (with Prof. Ole Mertz, University of Copenhagen), and ii) analyzing how sustainable measures by mining companies affect smallholders living in the vicinity of, or working in such mines, and the potential spillover land-use effects of such mines (with Prof. Jonas Ostergaard Nielsen, Humboldt University).
Conflict and cooperation over REDD+ in Mexico, Nepal and Vietnam (2014-2017)
This project examined the early development of REDD+ policy and REDD+ pilots in the above mentioned countries. The project was developed on the premise that REDD+ may aggravate the protracted conflicts characterizing forestry in the global South or cause new ones in the absence of a conflict-sensitive approach. Yet, the changes in cross-scale governance brought about by REDD+ may also provide unprecedented opportunities for transforming existing conflicts and promoting cooperation. The project produced recommendations on conflict-sensitive national safeguards processes for decision makers and provided relevant training to local communities, grassroots organizations, NGOs, government and project developers. By involving national institutions as equal partners, the project hopes to contribute to capacity development with regards to the ability to investigate, provide advice and implement tools for conflict-sensitive REDD+ policy and practice.
A political ecology of land-use change for climate mitigation (2010-2015)
This project financed the core of my research between 2010-2015. It was supported by a “Ramón y Cajal” senior research fellowship of the Spanish government and a Marie Curie Career Integration Grant of the European Research Agency. It focused on the analysis of two related land-use transformations in developing countries: on the one hand, the commodification of ecosystem services through carbon and biodiversity offset schemes and, on the other, land grabbing processes for agrofuel crops expansion, namely soybean and oil palm plantations.
Sustainable forest management and REDD+ in Tanzania (2010-2014)
The NGO Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative promotes sustainable forest management in the Kilwa district, southern Tanzania, since 2004. With support from the Norwegian government, the NGO worked with a team of researchers from the University of Edinburgh, the University of East Anglia, the UAB, and other organisations like Fauna and Flora International and the Voluntary Carbon Standard to design a pilot REDD+ project. Together with a post-doctoral researcher and the UEA team we contributed to develop socio-economic and forest governance baselines in selected communities and to test monitoring systems.
Analysing community-based strategies for biological and cultural conservation (2012-2014)
This project was financed by the EU 7th Research Framework and it aimed to identify the conditions and principles of successful biodiversity conservation in selected rural communities of Mexico, Brazil and Bolivia. The project was coordinated by BOKU, Austria, and involved key partners in host countries, including academic and grassroots organisations. The UAB team coordinated Work Package 5, involving a post-doctoral researcher, a PhD candidate and myself. We were responsible for analysing the role of conservation strategies in reducing or enhancing households’ vulnerability to environmental change, including climate variability and hazards.
The Clean Development Mechanism in South Africa (2008-2010)
This project was funded by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, UK. It analysed the contribution of a solar thermal energy CDM project to socio-economic well-being in a deprived township of Cape Town, South Africa, including baseline and follow-up surveys across hundreds of randomly selected households.
Exploring sustainable development in the Clean Development Mechanism and carbon forestry projects (2001-2010)
This research was funded by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, UK, and contributed to finance my PhD dissertation and most of my early post-doctoral work. Results from research conducted in Mexico, Belize and related writing with colleagues from a number of academic and grassroots organisations have helped to document the benefits and costs of CDM and carbon forestry offset projects for rural livelihoods, as well as to highlight the critical role that property rights and access relations play in the procedural and distributive outcomes of these initiatives.
Managing ecosystem services for poverty alleviation
Land-use intensification in forest-agriculture frontier landscapes (2016-2017)
This was a one-year knowledge synthesis project funded by the UK’s Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation program and led by Professor Adrian Martin (University of East Anglia). We synthesized existing knowledge on how land-use intensification shapes the changing trade-offs between land use, ecosystem services and poverty alleviation, with specific emphasis on forest-agriculture frontiers in the global South. These are areas often characterized by mosaic landscapes in transition from subsistence to cash-cropping economics, from longer to shorter fallows, and from lower to higher levels of purchased inputs. These rapidly changing social-ecological systems are also places where poverty alleviation and environmental conservation are priority objectives. In spite of this, we know very little about the trends and patterns of such intensification processes, the contexts in which they take shape, or how to improve related policies so that intensification results in positive environmental and well being effects.
Framing debates about poverty reduction and ecosystem services (2015-2017)
This project was funded by the UK’s Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation programme. It is led by Daniel Brockington (University of Sheffield) and involves also Bill Adams and Bhaskar Vira (University of Cambridge), myself and a post-doctoral researcher. The project mapped and conceptualised the key disputes and areas of agreement that animate current debates in the ecosystem services and poverty alleviation community. This helped us distinguishing between the different sorts of disagreement (and agreement) that exist between different epistemic communities, whether by theoretical, moral, conceptual or empirical. The nature of these disagreements is important because it determines the sort of work which is required to resolve current disputes (if they are resolvable) and so advance current understanding.
All the publications derived from these projects can be found here.