NERC RENEW PhD Studentship 2022/23. Applications closed


Prof Tim Lenton, Director, Global Systems Institute, Geography, University of Exeter.

Prof Gail Whiteman, Professor of Sustainability, Business School, University of Exeter.

Dr Tom Powell, Global Systems Institute, Geography, University of Exeter.

Dr Jesse Abrams, Global Systems Institute, Geography, University of Exeter

General Information:

The ‘Renewing biodiversity through a people-in-nature approach’ (RENEW) project will work with landowners, businesses, and communities to restore woodlands, wetlands and farmland across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The project will put people at the centre of the action on biodiversity renewal and build expertise across different sectors and communities to address the environment and climate crises. To find out more about RENEW visit our website:

The RENEW project is inherently interdisciplinary and encompasses biosciences, social sciences, politics, humanities, environmental intelligence, biodiversity economics, and conservation and is being managed in collaboration with the National Trust. In addition, the project is working alongside 33 project partners to deliver its aims.

A principal goal of the RENEW Studentships programme is to create a new generation of interdisciplinary, solutions-focused researchers who have experienced a rich culture including fundamental research and engagement with key partners.

A fully funded RENEW studentship will cover:

• A stipend for 4 years (currently £17,668 for 2022-23 entry) in line with the UK Research and Innovation rates
• Payment of the university tuition fees
• Research and Training costs

The project below is one of a number that is available under the RENEW programme.

Project Information:

The biosphere and ecosystems are complex adaptive systems, full of interacting feedback loops, which can sometimes exhibit tipping points where a small change in forcing causes an abrupt change in the state of the system that is hard to reverse. The risk of tipping points that are detrimental to biodiversity and the benefits we derive from it is escalating with global change. This risk includes both large-scale tipping points e.g. dieback of coral reefs or the Amazon rainforest, and smaller-scale tipping points e.g. abrupt land degradation, or loss of fish stocks. Equally, for degraded ecosystems, there are opportunities for positive tipping points of abrupt biodiversity gain. Businesses and finance are beginning to grapple with the financial materiality of biodiversity, but they are doing so in a linear thinking framework that has yet to incorporate the potential for tipping point changes.

This PhD project will develop a framework to assess the materiality of biodiversity tipping points, e.g. in terms of the financial value of the industries dependent on the corresponding ecosystems. The aim will be to explore how the tipping point qualities of abruptness, self-propelling change and irreversibility alter the assessment of materiality (both of financial risks and opportunities). The student will undertake a series of case study applications of the framework ranging from inherently large-scale tipping points e.g. Amazon rainforest dieback to local tipping points that may occur in many places e.g. abrupt land degradation, to opportunities for positive tipping points, e.g. tropical forest regeneration. The aim is twofold: to inform tools being used to assess associated financial risks and opportunities, and to explore the potential to enable positive action in the boardroom. For the latter, a series of evidence-based tipping point narratives will be developed, and their effectiveness tested. The PhD will be transdisciplinary – spanning relevant disciplines and involving action-oriented co-production of knowledge with J.O. Hambro capital management.

The student would be based at Exeter’s Streatham campus.

Eligibility for funding

RENEW studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate..

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate discipline to the project.  Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a Master’s degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

If English is not your first language, you would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the project

To apply at the University of Exeter web pages please follow this link