How AXA IM Research Award has supported winners' research
With the ambition to be a leading responsible asset manager, we want to ‘go beyond what is expected’, and make a real impact. For the last two years, we have been investing for a fair and green transition by, amongst other things, funding innovative academic research, through the AXA IM Research Award, in partnership with the AXA Research Fund.
In this joint interview, hear from our 2021 & 2022 winners about how the award has been beneficial to their research.
What are the major research advancements since you received the AXA IM Research Award’s grant?
Dr Floor van der Hilst, 2021 winner: My department board have supplemented the budget of the AXA IM Research Award with additional funding to appoint a full time PhD candidate for 4 years who will work on the Synergies & Trade-offs between sustainability implications of land use. For example, the expansion of cropland to increase food security could be detrimental for carbon stocks and biodiversity. We have assembled a diverse supervision team, in terms of background, gender and stage of career, thereby also offering early career researchers the opportunity to advance their career and gain more experience in PhD supervision. After a thorough application process, for which 300 (!) candidates applied, we have selected a very talented young Belgian researcher who already has a lot of international experience.
Professor Ana Queiros, 2022 winner: Through the work we have been undertaking since I received the award, we are gaining a better understanding of the value of seafloor habitats in the fight against climate change, by measuring how carbon fixed by marine plants is sequestered over time. This work will allow us to inform on how to use marine conservation approaches, and also industrial, job-generating activities like seaweed farming, to effectively protect that carbon from returning to the atmosphere.
The award is a recognition of the societal relevance of our research and an encouragement to further increase the societal impact of our work.
What impact has the AXA IM Research Award grant had on your research, your institution and yourself?
FH: The timing was perfect and, after my maternity leave and the silence of the Covid lock-downs, it allowed me to regain visibility in the field and beyond. It was also a unique opportunity to follow my own curiosity and sense of urgency by developing a research project on the topic the closest to my heart. By being invited to AXA IM's meetings, I have also learnt more about the role investors can play in sustainable development and how knowledge and knowledge-sharing can be crucial.
For my institution, the Copernicus institute for sustainable development of Utrecht University, the award is another recognition of the societal relevance of our research and an encouragement to further increase the societal impact of our work.
AQ: The award has allowed us to bring new technology to my current research, for instance, the use of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) to help us study kelp blue carbon. We will also be able to deploy underwater chambers that will allow us to measure carbon sequestration on the seafloor in real time, and thus to gain a deeper understanding of these processes we are trying to protect.
The award is also supporting our community engagements in Orkney, in the East of England, and in Northern Ireland, where we are working with policymakers and industry to try to find more effective ways to protect ocean life under climate change. By being able to work with these communities, we can co-create solutions that protect these habitats, whilst being socially acceptable and economically viable.
The award is supporting our community engagements in Orkney where we are working with policy and industry to try to find more effective ways to protect ocean life under climate change.
What are your key objectives for the coming years?
FH: The PhD candidate started September 1st 2023 to work on this project for the 4 coming years. Besides the support from the supervision team, he also is also collaborating with other PhDs candidates and junior researchers from my team who work on, for example, the water-energy-food nexus, the link between land use and biodiversity, spatial planning of renewable energy infrastructure and related impacts, the use of marginal lands for biomass production, the spatial variability of environmental impacts of agricultural and forestry land use and management changes etc. We will further develop this field of research to gain a thorough understanding of the synergies and trade-offs between sustainability implications of land use. This will allow us to make informed decisions on sustainable land use, and to make sure land can play its crucial role in amongst others: bending the curve of biodiversity loss, carbon sequestration, the hydrological cycle, food production, rural development, and renewable energy production.
AQ: In the next two years, we will be continuing our research missions in Orkney, Devon, the North Sea, and Ningaloo in Australia, to better understand carbon flows in the ocean, and how we can capitalise on these in the fight against climate change. We are working with other scientists, marine industries and policymakers to co-design such managements actions. We will also continue assessing the climate-resilience potential of marine species and habitats in Europe to help co-create approaches to marine conservation, fisheries and aquaculture, that protect nature, our blue economy and people’s values despite the growing pressures of climate change.
Research objectives of our winners
Dr Floor van der Hilst, 2021 winner:
How can we use and manage our land sustainably given the increasingly competing demands for land? To address the complexity of sustainable land use and the potential synergies and trade-offs between different sustainability objectives, Dr. Floor van der Hilst, takes an integrated and interdisciplinary approach. Her research is built on three main pillars:
- Drivers and dynamics of land use change.
- Environmental and socio-economic impacts of land use change.
- Synergies and trade-offs between sustainability objectives of land use.
Professor Ana Queiros, 2022 winner:
Her research aims to inform how to effectively protect the ability of the ocean to continue to serve as a carbon dioxide sink, and thus help mitigate climate change. She also works extensively with social scientists, marine policymakers and industry, to help improve the ways in which we manage the ocean to ensure our species and habitats are resilient to climate change.