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Postdoc: Negotiating Landscape Transitions for Net-Zero Carbon in Zürich

Studierende finden an der ETH Zürich ein Umfeld, das eigenständiges Denken fördert, Forschende ein Klima, das zu Spitzenleistungen inspiriert.


100%, Zurich, fixed-term

The Ecosystem Management group at ETH Zurich is offering a two-year postdoctoral research position to explore scenarios for landscape transitions in Scotland within the frame of delivering land-based contributions to national net-zero carbon ambitions. The project includes collaboration with the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and Bangor University in Wales.

This project aims to:

  1. Identify and understand the visions that different stakeholders have for landscape futures.
  2. Collate existing evidence on changes in selected ecosystem functions (e.g., carbon sequestration and storage, hydrological flows, biodiversity) following land cover change.
  3. Drawing on (1) and (2), build participatory landscape transition models to explore and evaluate alternative landscape transition scenarios.

While the position will be based at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, extended periods of field work will be expected in Scotland, and possibly also in Wales, in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and Bangor University. The candidate should therefore expect to spend time in both Switzerland and the UK.

Project background

Land use and landscape governance provide opportunities to contribute to climate mitigation targets. Such opportunities include changes in forest and agricultural practices, woodland restoration, and peatland rehabilitation. To deliver just transitions that accommodate the interests and needs of a diverse set of stakeholders, such actions need to be negotiated across stakeholder interests, and in full recognition of the multiple trade-offs and conflicts that exist. This requires mechanisms for collective engagement across sectoral interests and social and governance hierarchies.

This project, to be implemented primarily in Scotland and possibly extended to Wales, will integrate different interpretations of, and aspirations for, current and future landscapes (Objective 1) with ecological knowledge (Objective 2) to construct participatory models (Objective 3) by which stakeholders can collaboratively design, test, and evaluate options for landscape transitions.

We will use the Companion Modelling approach and will draw on extensive ecological models and databases to construct participatory modelling platforms in the form of strategy games to elicit and explore scenarios of landscape change. Such scenarios will additionally be framed by the proposed policy, governance, and financing concepts.

The broader context is the delivery of net-zero carbon futures through land-based approaches, and specifically through the management of upland landscapes in Scotland and Wales. The upland regions of the UK offer the best prospects for forest establishment (for timber production, ecosystem service provision, and biodiversity), but also include extensive areas of carbon-rich peatlands, and a variety of other land use interests including hill farming and sporting and recreational activities. Trade-offs among these different land use provide a complex and challenging arena for deliberation, but one that is also rich in opportunities for developing integrated and participatory landscape visioning and planning processes.


The project will draw on natural and social science approaches to interpret and negotiate possible futures through participatory modelling. We will integrate existing datasets and process-based models with social knowledge to design and build interactive participatory landscape models that allow strategies toward desired futures to be explored, evaluated, and negotiated across a range of stakeholder interests. Using these approaches, we will test different hypothetical interventions (e.g., policies, financial structures, or management propositions), and will visualise outcomes that result from the behaviours and decisions of participating stakeholders.

Working across broad stakeholder representation, the project will build and apply deliberative platforms that facilitate the emergence of negotiated solutions for future landscape transitions, while generating new knowledge on the functioning of socio-ecological upland landscapes.

Job description

You will be responsible for working with a range of land and policy actors to develop interactive and participatory 'strategic game' models by which to test scenarios of landscape change. This will entail integrating ecological dynamics with social and economic dynamics. Ecological dynamics will be synthesised by drawing on information from published literature. Social and economic values will be derived through interviews and the application of Q-sort approaches and/or Agent-Based Modelling. This information will be used to build interactive strategic games using the Companion Modelling approach for participatory scenario testing (if necessary, training in Companion Modelling will be provided).

The postdoc will be responsible for implementing the research and managing the logistics for the project. This includes researching to build the strategic game models and the implementation of the strategic games in at least two regions in Scotland with a variety of stakeholders. The successful applicant will also be expected to lead the writing and publication of the scientific outputs, and for engaging with policymakers and relevant private sector, and governmental and non-governmental agencies, to communicate outcomes and conclusions. The postdoc will be supported by an advisory team in Zurich (Jaboury Ghazoul and Anne Dray), Edinburgh (Marc Metzger), and Bangor (Sophie Wynne-Jones and John Healey).

Other duties would include contributing to group activities and some teaching support, though this would be subject to discussion and agreement.

Your profile

The following attributes, qualifications, and experience are expected:


  • PhD in either Environmental Science, Landscape Ecology, Geography, or applied Social Science (exceptionally, we will consider applicants with a Master's degree and additional relevant research experience)
  • Experience in stakeholder engagement processes, conducting interviews and facilitating discussions.
  • Excellent communication skills, and fluency in spoken and written English (French and/or German are also advantageous).
  • Ability to work independently during extended periods of field-based work
  • Interest and willingness to engage with a wide variety of land-based stakeholders and policymakers.
  • A driving licence that is valid in the UK.


  • Knowledge of UK (especially Scotland) land and climate debates, and the range of actors and organisations involved. 
  • Knowledge of landscape ecology, forest ecology, agroecology, or other natural resource management disciplines.
  • Understanding of Q-sort or similar approaches to evaluate and model the perspectives of different actors.
  • Knowledge and experience of Agent-Based Modelling.
  • Understanding of participatory modelling approaches (e.g. Companion Modelling).
Your workplace
Your workplace

We offer
  • A unique opportunity to undertake inter- and trans-disciplinary research on complex environmental challenges in regions undergoing rapid landscape change
  • Training in, and application of, Companion Modelling that will provide skills for addressing 'wicked problem' issues across a range of actor interests.
  • Access to a wide network of land management, conservation, and policy actors in Scotland, ensuring opportunities to directly contribute to land management and policy dialogues and processes.
  • A collaborative research environment that includes cross-university partnerships.
  • Flexible working environment, with the opportunity to work in both Switzerland and Scotland.
We value diversity
In line with our values, ETH Zurich encourages an inclusive culture. We promote equality of opportunity, value diversity and nurture a working and learning environment in which the rights and dignity of all our staff and students are respected. Visit our to find out how we ensure a fair and open environment that allows everyone to grow and flourish.
Curious? So are we.

We look forward to receiving your online application with the following documents:

  • Motivation letter that explains your interest in the position, and relevant skills and experience.
  • A full CV, including a publication list.
  • Copies of your two most relevant publications.
  • Names and emails of at least two referees.

The deadline for applications is 30 November 2022. We anticipate conducting interviews in mid-to late November. We expect the successful candidate will be in position by 1 January 2023, or as soon as possible thereafter.

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered.

Further information about the Ecosystem Management group can be found on our . Questions regarding the position should be directed to Professor Jaboury Ghazoul, email jaboury.ghazoul@env.ethz.ch (no applications).

About ETH Zürich
ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

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