This theme encompasses many different facets of research across STEMM, the social sciences and humanities, including the sustainability of natural and modified ecosystems in the face of societal development and climate change, climate change science, adaptation and mitigation, mining and its corresponding global environmental challenges, sustainability and the circular economy.

Available PhD projects

1. Can migration be harnessed to contribute to sustainability transitions?

Exeter academic leads

Professor Neil Adger, Geography

Dr Richardo Safra De Campos, Geography

UQ academic leads

Dr Karen McNamara, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Project description

This PhD project seeks to systematically assess the environmental footprint and consequences of population movement in both migration source and destination areas. It builds on theories of migration as social transformation 1, demographic metabolism 2, sustainability science 3 and migration transition theories 4, to incorporate migration into the sustainability paradigm.

The project involves three activities designed to build on knowledge and expertise of the co-supervisory team. First, the research will systematically detail the processes by which migration types (from rural-rural, frontier, rural-urban, international and seasonal): a) create the potential for transformations of well-being; b) affect sustainability indirectly through changing labour demand, resource pressures and demands for services; and c) affect sustainability directly through changing consumption and resource use patterns. The research integrates migration transition types with data on environmental impact, trajectories, and behavioural responses to environmental risks.

Second, the research will develop empirical models to provide country-level patterns of the role of migration in sustainability. The model will be calibrated using existing publicly available demographic, economic, social and political data available from diverse sources: e.g. international migration flows; internal migration flows, and sustainability and environmental data. The internal migration flows data has been uniquely developed for 135 countries at UQ (IMAGE project, QCPR).

The third element involves testing the robustness of the general model through collecting new empirical data on the social processes and environmental outcomes from one major international migration flow: from a selected Pacific island source country, to Australian destination cities and towns. This will involve survey and in-depth social methods collecting data with migrants, return migrants and left-behind populations in both the Pacific island economy and Australia.

The outcome of the project will be the first migration-sustainability model operationalized for all countries and an in-depth examination of its robustness using a discrete international migration flow. Both represent major contributions at the interface of migration studies and sustainability science.


  1. Liu, J. et al. 2003. Effects of household dynamics on resource consumption and biodiversity. Nature 421, 530-533.
  2. Castles, S. et al. 2013. The age of migration: International population movements in the modern world. Palgrave.
  3. Lutz, W. and Muttarak, R. 2017. Forecasting societies’ adaptive capacities through a demographic metabolism model. Nature Climate Change 7, 177–184.
  4. Skeldon, R., 2012. Migration transitions revisited: their continued relevance for the development of migration theory. Population, Space and Place 18, 154-166.


The project seeks to appoint a high quality student ideally with a background in demography or human geography, or a relevant applied social science. The student will need to be internationally mobile as the research involves periods at both Exeter and UQ, as well as periods of data collection in a small island Pacific nation.


Submit UQ expression of interest form by 26 May 2018