Details of student and placement

Name: Oliver Baines

Institution: University of Nottingham

Placement Host: United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC)

From February-April 2021, I was lucky enough to carry out a 3-month placement at United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), working in the Climate Change and Biodiversity programme. Having been introduced to their work as an undergraduate, I had long wanted to carry out a placement with UNEP-WCMC, and although I was unable to visit their offices in Cambridge, I was still made to feel welcome and collaborated virtually on numerous different projects.

A collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme and the UK charity WCMC, UNEP-WCMC aims to place biodiversity at the centre of environmental policy and decision making. My work with the CCB team was aligned closely to this ethos, working to improve our understanding of ecosystem restoration, linking to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration which begins this year. Specifically, I was tasked with trying to quantify the benefits (in carbon and biodiversity terms) of restoring degraded ecosystems before they are converted, nuancing our understanding of restoration. By reviewing the literature, I was able to compare the outcomes of restoration projects across different ecosystems to identify several key benefits of restoring degraded ecosystems before a change in land use. I was then able to complement this with a case-study example of the Great Green Wall (a large-scale restoration initiative in the Sahel), using remote sensing, GIS, and machine learning to quantify the outcomes of efforts to halt desertification.

I was also given the opportunity to collaborate on several other complementary projects involving degradation and restoration. I developed a method to provide rapid estimates of forest loss in Argentina, complementing more computationally intensive global forest loss estimates. This was used to compare to other estimates of forest change for 2020 to identify whether loss was increasing despite disruptions from COVID-19. Additionally, I was invited as a writer on the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration launch report which was released at the start of June. I was able to contribute a chapter conveying the benefits of restoring natural and anthropogenic ecosystems for the availability of clean water.

My placement with UNEP-WCMC provided invaluable experience at the science-policy interface, understanding how scientific research translates into policy, and how environmental research can be carried out in a non-university setting. Despite my studies normally focussing on the Arctic, I was able to adapt my skills in collating and disseminating information, spatial analysis, and remote sensing to a diverse array of different ecosystems. The experience I have gained will feed into my own project, understanding how my work can best be used to inform conservation, whilst simultaneously informing my future career choices (where UNEP-WCMC is somewhere I would love to return to!).

I would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone at UNEP-WCMC (particularly the CCB team) for letting me work on such interesting projects, and for making me feel so included, despite working virtually. I would also like to thank ENVISION for providing the opportunity to carry out a placement, which has allowed me to acquire and develop a range of essential skills which I will be able to use in my PhD and beyond. I would highly recommend a placement or an internship to anyone that is considering one!