Science-based ESG metrics

Overview

Human activities are disrupting the planet’s natural systems, collectively the ‘Earth system’, generating risks to the benefits that people obtain from these systems in Australia and worldwide.  Critical tipping points for climate and other systems are rapidly approaching, for example, tipping of Antarctic ice sheets, Amazon forest cover, tropical monsoons, coral reefs, freshwater eutrophication and salinity from rising groundwater.

Concerns about global environmental risks are rising among a wide range of corporate and financial stakeholders including global standard setters, with the newly convened International Sustainability Standards Board recently publishing Exposure Draft Requirements for Disclosure of Sustainability-related Financial Information. However, these draft standards as well as those already in use often neither indicate how significant an impact is compared to scientific reference points nor account for systemic impacts of environmental pressures arising from interactions within the Earth system.

Action is urgently needed to assess systemic environmental impacts in a way that can be operationalised by company decision-makers and institutional investors. One potential solution is a recently-developed1 prototype ‘Earth system impact score’ for assessing environmental impacts of companies and investors in a science-based, systemic and context-sensitive manner.

We are offering a scholarship for one PhD candidate to contribute to studying current ESG metrics and advancing the development and implementation of the prototype Earth system impact score. The work may involve interviews with corporate and financial actors, analysis of impact environmental impact databases, analysis of individual company or portfolio impacts, and contributing to the development of an interactive tool for the metric. The student will work closely with researchers from across ANU, Dr Tanya Fiedler at the University of Sydney, international researchers including from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and industry bodies nationally and internationally. The scholarship is funded by a Discovery Project awarded to Dr Steven Lade, Dr Tanya Fiedler, Prof Beatrice Crona and Dr Ingo Fetzer by the Australian Research Council with co-funding from the Fenner School of Environment and Society.

Eligibility

Essential attributes: The potential student

  • May be a domestic or international candidate
  • Must have a bachelor's degree with first-class honours or a research Master's degree from a recognised university
  • Must have successfully obtained an offer admission to a PhD program (see How to Apply)
  • Must be able to commence between 1 August and 31 December 2023, preferably earlier in that period

Desired attributes:

  • Experience or interest researching or working in corporate or financial sustainability
  • Experience working with quantitative data
  • Knowledge of the science of climate change, biodiversity loss, the water cycle, etc.
  • Enthusiasm for working with researchers across disciplines
  • Strong written and oral English skills
  • Previous peer-reviewed publications

Benefits

The successful candidate will receive:

  • fortnightly payments for 3.5 years at a rate of $34,000/year (tax free);
  • travel and removal allowances for students relocating to Canberra to commence their research program;
  • thesis allowance;
  • paid medical and parental leave.

How to apply

Interested individuals are invited to discuss the project with Dr Steven Lade (steven.lade@anu.edu.au) or Dr Tanya Fiedler (tanya.fiedler@sydney.edu.au) and must submit a CV and a one page statement of possible research directions to them by 31 January 2023. Applications submitted after this date will also be considered until the application is filled. A preferred candidate will be selected and invited to apply for admission of the PhD program, after which the scholarship will be awarded.

Research at The Australian National University

In the latest World University Rankings, The Australian National University was the top institution in Australia for environmental research and ranked within the world top ten. The Fenner School of Environment and Society (https://fennerschool.anu.edu.au/) has a large, dynamic community of PhD students who are provided with high quality office facilities and computer and statistical support. Students are encouraged to collaborate widely and attend national and international conferences.

Further information

Queries regarding scholarship matters can be directed to hdr.coordinator.fses@anu.edu.au.

1. Lade et al. (2021), A prototype Earth system impact metric that accounts for cross-scale interactions, Environmental Research Letters 16 (11), 115005, https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ac2db1