My research falls broadly within environmental policy, governance and economics, with a particular interest in the role of economic policy instruments in biodiversity conservation and natural resource management. My PhD research is interdisciplinary, and has lead me to draw upon quantitative and qualitative methods used in policy studies, economics and political science. Currently, my focus is on understanding the key barriers to the successful implementation of biodiversity offset policy.
My undergraduate training is in Ecology and Mathematics, which I completed at the University of Queensland. My Honours research (also at UQ) examined the major threats to Australian threatened species, and determined their spatial distributions and patterns of dominance across the Australian continent. I subsequently worked as a Research Assistant at UQ from 2009-2012, where I worked on a range of applied conservation problems.
At the Fenner School, I am a member of the Policy, Institutions & Economics Group. My primary PhD supervisor is Professor Karen Hussey. I am also associated with the Environmental Decisions Group, including the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions and the NESP Threatened Species Recovery Hub.
I am a member of the Oceania Board of Directors for the Society for Conservation Biology.
More about my research can be found at my website and blog: https://mcevansresearch.wordpress.com
An interdisciplinary approach to evaluating the efficacy of environmental policies
My thesis is structured into three major sections. First, I examine the drivers and trends of the major threat to biodiversity persistence in Australia – deforestation – and provide a detailed history and critique of the native vegetation policies introduced across Australia over the last 40 years (Evans, In Press, Pacific Conservation Biology). I document the recent shift away from ‘command and control’ policies towards self-regulation and incentive-based policy instruments. Despite this change in preference in policy instrument type, very little is known of the effectiveness of the regularity policy responses to deforestation in Australia, let alone more recent approaches such as biodiversity offsetting and carbon farming. Next, I use a novel statistical method to evaluate the impact of native vegetation regulations in Australia, to show for the first time what (if any) role policy has had on the historical rate of deforestation, relative to macroeconomic and climatic drivers (Evans, Chiu et al, in prep).
In the second section, I consider a case study of carbon farming in Queensland (Evans et al. 2015 Environmental Science & Policy), which holds significant promise for its potential to incentivise large-scale restoration of degraded agricultural land, but this potential has been largely unrealised due to market and policy uncertainty. I use a spatially explicit discounted cash-flow analysis to demonstrate that assisted natural regeneration is a viable land use for large parts of Queensland, even under a high ($50/ha) carbon price. This result was fairly robust to variation in establishment, management and transaction costs – meaning that although the economics are sound, the lack of uptake is more likely due to policy uncertainty and socio-cultural barriers.
In the final section, I consider a larger case study on biodiversity offsetting. Here, I draw upon a body of research undertaken with several colleagues, which has documented the design process of the Australian federal environmental offset policy (Miller et al. 2015), and the development of the novel metric used as part of this policy (Gibbons et al. 2015). Next, two contributions critically examine the offset policies in eight Australian jurisdictions, with respect to their assumptions regarding baseline rates of biodiversity loss (Maron et al. 2015 Biological Conservation), and their adherence to key offset policy principles (Evans et al, in prep, Pacific Conservation Biology). A synthesis paper (Maron et al. In Press, BioScience) explores the ethical, social, technical and governance dimensions of biodiversity offsetting, and identifies where issues may be resolved, and which may remain intractable.
My final contribution to this case study, and to my thesis, examines the governance dimensions of biodiversity offsetting in far greater detail. A key gap in the literature on biodiversity offsetting, and environmental policy more broadly, is a focus on the socio-political context in which policy is developed and implemented. The policy actors involved, their motivations and objectives, and the institutional and organizational incentives in place may all influence the capacity or inclination for environmental policy to be effectively, efficiently, and fairly implemented (Evans, Hussey, Whitten, in prep). Using a qualitative methodological framework, I am conducting semi-structured interviews with stakeholders to identify key barriers and enablers to achieving positive outcomes from biodiversity offsetting. Preliminary findings indicate that although improvements in offset policy and metric design has provided regulators and proponents with more guidance on how to implement offset policy, key barriers remain in the way of achieving positive biodiversity outcomes from offsetting: namely policy uncertainty, limited capacity for effective oversight, limited public accountability, difficulties in making an offset site commercially viable, and the use of offsetting in a piecemeal, non-strategic approach.
Evans MC. In press. Deforestation in Australia: drivers, trends and policy responses. Pacific Conservation Biology
Maron M, Ives CD, Kujula H, Bull JW, Maseyk F, Bekessy S, Gordon A, Watson JEM, Lentini P, Gibbons P, Possingham HP, Hobbs RJ, Keith DA, Wintle BA, Evans MC. In press. Taming a wicked problem: resolving controversies in biodiversity offsetting. BioScience.
Gibbons P, Evans MC, Maron M, Gordon A, Le Roux, D, von Hase, A, Lindenmayer, DB and Possingham, HP. 2015. A loss-gain calculator for biodiversity offsets and the circumstances in which no net loss is feasible. Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12206
Evans, M.C., Tulloch, A.I.T., Law, E.A., Raiter, K.G., Possingham, H.P. & Wilson, K.A. 2015. Clear consideration of costs, condition and conservation benefits yields better planning outcomes. Biological Conservation, 191, 716–727. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2015.08.023
Maron, M., Bull, J.W., Evans, M.C., Gordon, A., 2015. Locking in loss: baselines of decline in Australian biodiversity offset policies. Biological Conservation. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2015.05.017
Evans, M.C., Carwardine, J., Fensham, R.J., Butler, D., Wilson, K.A., Possingham, H.P., Martin, T.G., In Press. Carbon farming in agricultural landscapes: assisted natural regeneration as a viable mechanism for restoring biodiversity and ecosystem services. Environmental Science & Policy.
Miller K, Dripps K, Trezise J, Kraus S, Evans MC, Gibbons P, Possingham HP, Maron M. 2015. The Development of the Australian Environmental Offsets Policy: from Theory to Practice. Environmental Conservation. First View: 1–9. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S037689291400040X
Tulloch, V.J.D., Possingham, H.P., Visconti, P., Halpern, B.S., Watson, J.E.M., Evans, M.C., Auerbach, N.A., Barnes, M., Beger, M., Chadès, I., Giakoumi, S., McDonald-Madden, E., Murray, N.J., Ringma, J. & Tulloch, A.I.T. 2015. Why do we map threats? Linking threat mapping with actions to make good decisions for biodiversity conservation. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/140022
Tulloch, AI, Tulloch, VI, Evans, MC, Mills M. Early View. The Value of Using Feasibility Models in Systematic Conservation Planning to Predict Landholder Management Uptake. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12403
Evans, MC, Possingham H.P., Wilson K.A. 2011. Extinctions: conserve not collate. Nature 474: 284-284. doi:10.1038/474284a
Wilson KA, Evans MC, Di Marco M, Green DC, Boitani L, Possingham HP, Chiozza F, Rondinini C. 2011. Prioritizing conservation investments for mammal species globally. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 366:2670-2680. doi:10.1098/rstb.2011.0108
Evans MC, Watson JEM, Fuller RA, Venter O, Bennett SC, Marsack PR, Possingham HP. 2011. The Spatial Distribution of Threats to Species in Australia. BioScience 61: 281-289. doi: 10.1525/bio.2011.61.4.8
Evans MC, Possingham HP, Wilson KA. 2011. What to do in the face of multiple threats? Incorporating dependencies within a return on investment framework for conservation. Diversity and Distributions. doi.10.1111/j.1472-4642.2011.00747.x
Taylor MFJ, Sattler PS, Evans MC, Fuller RA, Watson JEM, Possingham HP. 2011. What works for threatened species recovery? An empirical evaluation for Australia. Biodiversity and Conservation. doi:10.1007/s10531-010-9977-8
Watson JEM, Evans MC, Carwardine J, Fuller RA, Joseph LN, Segan DB, Taylor MFJ, Fensham R, Possingham HP. 2011. The Capacity of Australia’s Protected-Area System to Represent Threatened Species. Conservation Biology. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2010.01587.x