Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

Research Group

Recent outputs

Full list of publications from the Ecosystem Governance Group

Our work

The ECI Ecosystem Governance Programme seeks to strengthen our understanding of how state and non-state institutions and actors shape decisions about the conservation and use of forests, and about the interface of forests with other land uses. This research encompasses a wide diversity of governance institutions and networks, from intergovernmental processes, to government agencies, to market-based sustainability certification, to locally based and indigenous resource management. A core aim of our research is to better understand how governance systems organize and distribute decision-making authority across conflicting interests, from the local to global scale, and the resulting impacts of such systems on forests and people.

11/05/21 11 May 2021 -
Image: ABC network
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Biodiversity and art: Artist-in-residence Loveday Pride working with the Land use and governance team As part of the ABC Network science-artist collaboration, Loveday Pride has joined forces with the Land use governance team. Loveday is a Fine Art student at the Ruskin School in Oxford, and while she is primarily a painter, her work embraces many media. Her main muse is The Pug, whose round body and squidgy face takes on multitudinous forms, from fairy tale peas to Rococo icons.
31/12/20 22 January 2021 -
Adobe Stock - Woman carrying water in Uganda - Dennis
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Why projects to adapt to climate change backfire Many internationally-funded projects aimed at combating the impacts of climate change can make things worse - by reinforcing, redistributing or creating new sources of vulnerability in developing countries, according to a review led by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) and the University of Oxford. Dr Lisa Schipper, Environmental Social Scientist at the ECI, is one of the lead authors of the review.
19/12/20 19 January 2021 -
Adobe Stock - Movie clapper - kanpisut
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Storytelling can be a powerful tool for science ECI scientists Josh Ettinger, Lisa Schipper and Fredi Otto have written a response to a recent Nature commentary arguing against storytelling in science communication. Used appropriately, storytelling humanizes the research process and makes science more accessible to diverse audiences, the authors say. Read the full rebuttal in Nature magazine.
21/12/20 21 December 2020 -
Adobe Stock - palm oil - photomagically
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Legal does not equal sustainable: Reflections on proposed UK law addressing deforestation The UK government is developing a new law that prohibits imports of 7 commodities originating from illegally deforested land, including beef, leather, cocoa, palm oil, pulp and paper, timber, rubber and soya. While the stated aim of the policy is to promote sustainability, its current focus on legality overlooks how legal systems can themselves be drivers of both environmental and social harm, writes Constance McDermott, leader of ECI's new Ecosystems Governance Group.


Access Failure: Explaining Climate-Related Migration in the Sahel

11 March 2021

Speaker: Professor Jesse Ribot, School of International Service (SIS), American University. This talk examines ostensibly climate-related migration in the Sahel as a case of "access failure". It argues that a lens of access helps reveal the political-economic and institutional production of precarity that enables climate events to push people into crisis.

Current projects

Resilience and access to sustainable growth in upland Nepal and Myanmar

  • Funding: Rockerfeller Foundation
  • 2017 – 2019
  • ECI Lead: Dr Constance McDermott. PI, Prof. Tim Forsyth, Department of International Development, London School of Economics and Political Science

The project examines resilience to environmental change (including climate change) among poor and vulnerable rural populations in hill zones of Nepal and Myanmar. This includes a cross-national comparison of the relationships between resilience and transitions in livelihoods, trade, and land tenure. Resilience is examined not simply as a response to physical shocks such as flooding, but also as embedded in local innovations to sustain or improve livelihoods within the broader context of rural development. This analysis will provide lessons on how themes of inequality and transition can be used in national (and potentially international) environmental assessments of resilience in ways that enhance resilience among poor and vulnerable populations experiencing environmental and socio-economic changes after years of violent conflict.

PEFC Germany

How does forest certification contribute to biodiversity conservation and protection of community rights? Stakeholder negotiations, standards, auditing and consequences on-the-ground

  • Funding: FORMAS, Swedish Research Council for sustainable development
  • 2018 – 2020
  • ECI Lead: Dr Constance McDermott. PI, Dr Marine Elkabidze, University of Uppsala

This project examines the political ecology of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and how this shapes FSC outcomes for biodiversity conservation and protection of local/indigenous community rights. The geographic focus is on Canada, Russia and Sweden, all countries with large areas of boreal forest, and which rank 1st, 2nd and 4th worldwide in terms of their total FSC certified forest area. The project will include a multi-scale examination of the FSC standards and processes as a system of networked governance, with attention to (1) negotiations among stakeholders for formulating global and national FSC standards, (2) the resulting standards, (3) audits of certified forest management, and (4) assessments of outcomes related to ecological and social sustainability.

Supranational forest governance in an era of globalizing wood production and justice politics (ProdJus)

  • Funding: Europe and Global Challenges initiative of Riksbankens Jubileumsfond; The Wellcome Trust; VolkswagenStiftung
  • 207 – 2019
  • ECI Senior Scientific Advisor: Dr Constance McDermott. PI, Dr Rodd Myers, University of East Anglia

ProdJus examines two supranational governance arrangements for tropical forests aimed at transforming the wood products trade between Europe and other world regions: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT). It combines analyses of global production networks and justice politics in a transdisciplinary manner, building on an international partnership of leading researchers from Africa, Asia and Europe, and drawing on empirical fieldwork in Ghana, Indonesia, Vietnam and Europe. The project holds a particular interest in the differentiation of governance forms and outcomes between Europe and the South, among Southern countries and between the transnational, national and local levels. By looking at novel forms of forest governance, ProdJus will improve understanding of how collective action can address critical challenges in an increasingly globalised world, and what this means for the future of the European continent in the presence of a more general shift from state-centred territorial governance to flow-centred arrangements.

Forests and agriculture

Land Use and Resource Management at the Agricultural- Forest Frontier (LAMAR)

  • Funding: European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie program
  • 2017-2019
  • ECI Lead: Dr Kaysara Khatun

LAMAR aims to explore the inter-relationships between conservation and agricultural practices in order to determine how sustainable land use practices can be created and strengthened over time. Research lines include assessing Ecosystem Services to humans, as well as factors that are causing ecosystem change, such as commercial agricultural production (e.g. the demand for cash crops such as soy and palm oil) which can affect the long-term resilience of such ecosystems. LAMAR will take into account the discourses, practices and social relationships around land use that are currently unfolding within the 'realpolitik' of a studied region. The findings are expected to be complementary to climate change mitigation efforts and feed into policy processes targeted at improving food security, conservation, and local livelihoods.

Protected Area

Effective and equitable institutional arrangements for financing and safeguarding biodiversity

  • Funding: The Swedish Research Council Formas
  • 2014 – 2017
  • ECI Lead: Dr Constance McDermott

This research assesses the use of safeguards at international and national levels as strategies to ensure that biodiversity financing mechanisms (BFM), such as payments for ecosystem services (PES) and biodiversity offsets, support livelihoods. At the international level, the analysis focuses in particular on agreements on biodiversity (CBD), climate change (UNFCCC) and international human rights law. The national-level analysis contrasts the approaches of Sweden, Mexico and Ecuador.

Natural Resources

Governing Natural Resources in a Global Era: Actors, Practices, and Outcomes

  • Funding: The Social Science and Humanities Research Council, Canada
  • 2015 – 2018
  • ECI collaborator: Dr Constance McDermott

This research examines the governance of mining and forestry globally and through selected country and company comparative case studies.

Recently completed projects


Exploring the ecosystem limits to poverty alleviation in African forest-agriculture landscapes (ECOLIMITS)

ECOLIMITS is a consortium project looking at ecosystem services, degradation and links to poverty in the cocoa farm and forest landscape around Kakum National Park, Ghana, and the coffee growing landscape of south-western Ethiopia.

Cattle: by Thomas Sennett, World Bank

Climate change mitigation, avoided deforestation and commodity agriculture: Assessing private sector innovation for sustainable coffee and cattle in Brazil

  • Funding: Global Innovations Initiate & Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
  • 2014 – 2016
  • ECI Lead: Dr Constance McDermott

This project draws on evidence from the coffee and cattle sectors in Brazil to inform how certification and sustainability standards might contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from forest loss.


A Trustmark for the Sharing Economy UK (SEUK)

  • Funding: The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship.
  • 2015
  • Project advisor: Dr Constance McDermott

The UK’s sharing economy trade body, SEUK, is partnering with the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School to develop a ‘trustmark’ for the sharing economy. The aim of the trustmark is to establish responsible practices to guide both sharing economy businesses and consumers.


Governing the EU's Global Forest Footprint

  • Funding: European Union FP7
  • 2011-2015
  • ECI Lead: Dr Constance McDermott

This project forms a part of the EU 7th Framework Programme project INTEGRAL: Future-oriented integrated management of European forest landscapes. The forest governance group’s role in this study is to review the current state of knowledge on the EU’s global footprint, assess EU policy responses, and consider how this knowledge might inform participatory processes addressing land use in the EU.


Certification, trust and the creative consumer

  • Funding: Skoll Centre Competitive Research Grant
  • 2012-2015
  • ECI lead: Dr Constance McDermott; Collaborator: Caitlin Schindler

This project involves research and first-stage development of a mobile App to empower small and medium-sized wood producers to practice sustainable forestry and communicate their knowledge and practices across the supply chain. The app combines information and interactive learning on the forests of origin with storytelling, pictures and videos to recreate social and emotional connections between producers and purchasers.

Tourism in forests

Safeguarding local equity as the global value of ecosystem services rise

  • Funding: ESPA
  • 2010-2012
  • Co-I: Dr Constance McDermott, Dr Lauren Coad

This project develops and applies a conceptual framework that analyses the links between ecosystem services and sustainable poverty reduction, examining in particular how benefits derived from ecosystem services are distributed among different stakeholders, the factors underlying these processes and their potential impacts. In particular, the framework aims to help decision-makers in REDD and PES programmes minimise negative impacts on equity and maximise positive impacts on poverty alleviation.


Qualifying carbon: building trust and credibility in REDD+ through reflexive, multi-level governance

This research assesses the multi-level governance of REDD+ safeguards. It is grounded in a case study of community implementation in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and looks upwards to Mexico’s many regional, national and international REDD+ activities and how they influence outcomes within this case study. Analysis includes a comprehensive institutional mapping of REDD+-related activities and associated safeguards and an assessment of how the dynamics of trust and power mediate inter-institutional relationships and the prescriptiveness or flexibility of REDD+ safeguards. The research from this project has been integrated into the above project on “Effective and equitable institutional arrangements for financing and safeguarding biodiversity".