PhD position available: Scenario modelling of sustainability transitions in Australia’s minerals sector

Two PhD positions available: 
Modelling sustainable and just transitions in Australia’s minerals sector


Two PhD positions are currently available in the Sustainability Assessment Program under the lead of Prof. Thomas Wiedmann at UNSW Sydney. 


Project background and aims

Profound changes in the global economy are emerging. Global commitments to climate protection, sustainability, security and trade are reorienting development pathways, while little time remains to avoid catastrophic climate change with severe disruptions of vital systems of provisioning. Urgent research is needed to map out possible pathways for countries to achieve long-term sustainable development that is economically secure, environmentally safe and socially just for all countries. In Australia, there is a need for evaluating both risks (e.g. diminishing trade in fossil fuels) and opportunities (e.g. increased demand for critical minerals, circular economy) from global changes. 

The project’s long-term research ambition is to provide the knowledge and tools to guide transitions for critical economic sectors towards long-term environmental sustainability and just societal outcomes. It develops advanced modelling and forecasting capability and aims to:

1)  Project quantitative simulations of global changes and their consequences for the criticality of production and use of Australian mineral resources.

2)  Improve methods of criticality and sustainability assessment by linking two advanced research tools, the IELab and the iSDG Australia tool.

3)  Quantitatively evaluate sustainability transition scenarios in terms of supply chain resilience, just employment outcomes and long-term environmental sustainability of Australian minerals and manufacturing sectors.

4)  Deliver evidence-based recommendations in the form of policy, investment and governance settings needed to manage transitions in resource production and materials manufacturing.

PhD position 2: Scenario modelling of sustainability transitions in Australia’s minerals sector

The PhD student will implement and apply scenario analysis using the iSDG Australia tool (Allen et al. 2019)*. This will involve further extending, disaggregating and calibrating iSDG model components to align with regions and sectors in the IELab, while retaining full regional and sectoral flexibility. The aim is to align and harmonise IELab data with relevant iSDG modules from and automate feedback from iSDG scenario outputs to IELab, where future MRIO tables will be built via constrained optimisation.

The PhD candidate will know or be trained in system dynamics modelling. The student will have a robust background in natural, environmental, sustainability or engineering sciences, but will ideally also have a good understanding of socio-economic and socio-demographic structures and datasets and social and governance processes. S/he will investigate and simulate policy and investment strategies for realising the pathways from the modelling work; in short, what makes the right ‘enabling environment’ for sustainability transitions including policy mixes and sequencing of measures to deliver desired outcomes and address unintended consequences. 

*)   Allen, C., Metternicht, G., Wiedmann, T. and Pedercini, M. (2019) Greater gains for Australia by tackling all SDGs but the last steps will be the most challenging. Nature Sustainability, 2, 1041-1050.



Candidates need to be successful in securing their own primary scholarship via a Research Training Program (RTP) – Domestic or University International Postgraduate Award (UIPA) or any equivalent scholarship from Australia or overseas. A secondary Top-Up scholarship ($5,000) may be available to exceptional applicants.

Successful candidates will join the Sustainability Assessment Program (SAP) at UNSW, which is embedded in the Water Research Centre in the School of Civil & Environmental Engineering. This provides a focal point for multidisciplinary research in sustainability, industrial ecology and ecological economics. SAP aims to support governments and industry in improving their decision making with an integrated assessment framework that combines economic, environmental and social dimensions. We take an economy-wide systems perspective that accounts for both synergies and trade-offs.

Candidates should have backgrounds in natural, environmental, sustainability or engineering sciences, and have the ability to conduct independent research with limited supervision, with excellent written and communication skills, and will be expected to interact regularly with other researchers, government and industry stakeholders. Knowledge of sustainability assessment methods (e.g. input-output analysis, system dynamics modelling, life cycle assessment and material flow analysis,) will be beneficial for the positions. 

Candidates will be supervised by Prof Thomas Wiedmann from UNSW Sydney, who is an internationally recognised leader in sustainability, input-output, footprint and climate mitigation research with an award-winning track record of publications and a well-established professional and collaboration network. Applications should be submitted to him (email: with the subject heading “SAP PhD position” and indicating your specific project of interest (PhD position 1 or 2), along with a cover letter, academic transcript, and CV.

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