Investigating the interface between power and finance for NbS initiatives across scales and actors

ESRC Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) collaborative doctoral studentship.

The School of Geography and the Environment, the University of Oxford with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).



Dr Mark Hirons, the University of Oxford

Alexandre Chausson, WWF-UK (NbS Hub)



As global biodiversity loss, climate change and social injustices continue to worsen, there are growing calls to funnel funding towards “nature-based solutions” (NbS). NbS are usually characterised as ‘working with nature to address societal challenges, providing benefits for both human well-being and biodiversity’ While there are a range of perspectives on NbS, the dominant narrative highlights a need for a substantial increase in private-led initiatives to supplement growth in public sector funding, and positions the private sector as central stewards. While this generates enthusiasm about the potential of NbS to “unlock” significant financial flows, it has also generated concerns about the ways in which NbS could exacerbate inequalities and jeopardize ecological outcomes.

This project aims to critically examine the relationships between power and NbS finance narratives, policies, and practices across governance scales and actor groups. The exact theoretical and empirical approaches will be co-refined in partnership with WWF-UK, the project collaborators. Illustratively, the project may build on understandings of power in the recent IPBES Values Assessment to investigate research questions such as:

  • How do narratives surrounding NbS finance within global environmental governance processes influence investment decisions among state, private and philanthropic funders of NbS?
  • How do power dynamics influence the capacity of key actors at local, national and international scales implementing NbS to pursue and attract finance?
  • How are trade-offs between attracting finance and delivering equitable and effective NbS initiatives articulated and negotiated by key actors pursuing NbS across scales?

Anticipated methods for this project include surveys, institutional ethnography, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and participatory data collection approaches like community mapping. Therefore, this project would suit a student with an academic background in the qualitative and mixed methods social sciences whose specialism is broadly in the fields of geography, environmental politics and political ecology, sociology and nature resource governance and related disciplines. Given the collaborative nature of the project, this opportunity would also suit someone with experience working in policy and practice on NbS or related areas as the project aims to in inform guidance that can be taken up by conservation practitioners, funders, and policymakers.



This project is a collaboration with WWF-UK. WWF-UK is committed to explore potential opportunities and risks associated with investment in NbS to better understand how flows of finance can be targeted and safeguarded to deliver high-integrity solutions for people and nature. WWF-UK’s considerable reach, access, and networks across scales of environmental governance will be valuable to this project. The student will be able to learn from the strong relationships WWF-UK has cultivated with partners in the NbS funding ecosystem, across government, business, and other NGOs. WWF-UK will also support partnering with national and local level NGOs across the world implementing NbS to investigate research questions through nested case studies. The partnership will also enhance the impact of the project since WWF-UK will explore opportunities to integrate the student’s research findings, and guidance stemming from it, in on-going work on NbS.



The PhD studentship will be funded by the Grand Union DTP for an expected 3.5 years from October 2024. The award length offered may differ depending on the candidate’s prior training and how they meet ESRC training requirements.

Information about Grand Union DTP ESRC studentships and eligibility can be found on the Grand Union DTP website.



12:00 midday UK time on 19 January 2024



To apply for the studentship, you must submit an application to study for a DPhil Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. Details about applying can be found via:

Your application should include a research proposal that indicates how your proposed research would engage with the core elements of this project if you were offered the studentship. Your proposal may draw on the description of the research detailed above.

In addition to completing your graduate application form, you must also complete a Grand Union DTP Application Form and upload it, by the deadline published above, together with your graduate application form. Please ensure you also select 'ESRC Grand Union DTP Studentships in Social Sciences' in the University of Oxford scholarships section of the University's graduate application form.

The admissions process is in two parts: applications will be assessed by the institution and the selected candidate will then be assessed as part of the applicant pool for ESRC Grand Union DTP funding.



Queries about the studentship should be addressed to: Dr Mark Hirons (