PhD on the Footprint of Colonialism: Attributing Biodiversity Loss and GHG Emissions from Colonial Land Change Processes – Utrecht University

Do you have a strong interest in the connection between land use and history? Check this PhD position!

Job description

Quantifying the cumulative attribution of countries to biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions arising from land change is of critical importance to achieve global environmental justice. Attribution of individual countries to past land change in an objective manner gives clear information for negotiations around loss and damage finances as recently debated at United Nations conference on climate Change (COP27) and biodiversity (COP15).

The aim of this project is to quantify the relative attribution of different countries to biodiversity loss and GHG emissions arising from land change since the colonial period using footprint analysis. This will illustrate to what extent the burden of resource extraction has shifted over time and how colonial legacies impact environmental footprints in present day. We will use an approach that integrates the HYDE database of landcover change with reconstructions of resource flows based on historical data and footprint modelling techniques.

The PhD candidate will work within two of the main research sections of the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development: Innovation Studies and Environmental Sciences at the core of Copernicus themes’ Integrated Modelling, Transitions, Sustainable Land and Sustainable Food.


We are looking for an outstanding and highly motivated candidate with a deep interest in land use and history. We are especially interested in interdisciplinary scholars with strong modelling and quantitative data analysis skills. We gladly receive applications from candidates who:

  • have an MSc in Environmental Sciences, (Economic) History, Digital Humanities or a related field;
  • have strong affinity with sustainability, land use and history;
  • have strong quantitative and data analysis skills;
  • have excellent communication skills;
  • have proficiency in English;
  • enjoy working in an interdisciplinary and international environment;
  • are willing to travel to case study countries and collaborate with local experts.
  • the candidate is expected to contribute to the teaching programme of Copernicus (up to 10%).

Conditions of employment

You will be offered a temporary position (0.8 – 1.0 FTE), initially for one year with an extension to a total of four years upon a successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period. The gross salary ranges between €2,541 in the first year and €3,247 in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year.

In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University.


A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major strategic themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

Utrecht University’s Faculty of Geosciences studies the Earth: from the Earth’s core to its surface, including man’s spatial and material utilisation of the Earth – always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty of Geosciences is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Physical Geography, and Sustainable Development.

Additional information

For more information about this position, please contact C.G.M. Klein Goldewijk (Assistant Professor) via or +31 6 27132148 or Brian Dermody (Assistant Professor) via
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