PhD Opportunity: Valuing environmental harm: How can local, legal and economic conceptualizations of deforestation be reconciled?

Valuing environmental harm: How can local, legal and economic conceptualizations of deforestation be reconciled?

Supervisors: Jacob Phelps (Lancaster), James Fraser (Lancaster), Alejandra Rabasa (Environmental Law Institute), Carol Jones (Environmental Law Institute)

Deadline for applications: 20th April 2018. More information here.

We readily recognise that environmental harm has broad impacts on society (e.g., on livelihoods, tax revenues, biodiversity loss, cultural impacts, increased costs of restoration). However, the magnitude of these injuries are rarely communicated via judicial processes, such as court sentences, fines and civil law suits. Moreover, the ways in which local residents perceive these harms often differs from how legal systems conceive them.

This project will elucidate, and compare how environmental harm from deforestation is locally experienced, and how it is recognized via formal legal processes. This includes a particular interest in how judges and prosecutors perceive and engage with concepts of environmental harm, and the economic valuation instruments often used to measure harm. It specifically engages liability for environmental harm, which holds perpetrators of environmental damage responsible for the harm they cause, including restoration and other forms of compensation. Although well-established in the context of U.S. water pollution (e.g., Deepwater Horizon oil spill), such liability provisions remain weakly applied in other contexts (e.g., tropical deforestation), and does not necessarily reflect harm as it is experienced. The project will explore these issues conceptually and through empirical field research, ranging from courtrooms to rural communities, based in Mexico (proposals for alternative country proposals will also be considered).

Funding Notes

Full studentship (UK/EU tuition fees and stipend (£14,553 2017/18 [tax free])) for UK/EU students for 3.5 years. Unfortunately funding is not available for International (non EU) students.


• Jones, C.A., Pendergrass, J.A., Broderick, J., Phelps, J. 2015. Tropical conservation and liability for environmental harm. The Environmental Law Reporter 45:32-50.

• Jones, C.A., DiPinto, L. 2017. The role of ecosystem services in USA natural resource liability litigation. Ecosystem Services 29:333-351.

• Pascual, U., Phelps, J., Garmendia, E., Brown, E., Corbera, E., Martin, A., Gómez-Baggethun, E., Muradian R. 2014. Social equity matters in Payment for Ecosystem Services. BioScience 64:1027-1036.

• Phelps, J., Dermawan, A., Garmendia, E., 2017. Institutionalizing environmental valuation into policy: Lessons from 7 Indonesian agencies. Global Environmental Change 43:15-25.

• Phelps, J., Jones, C.A., Pendergrass, J.A., Gómez-Baggethun, A. 2015. Environmental liability: A missing use for ecosystem services valuation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112:E5379.

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