Photo by ANU

Research highlight

10 February 2021

Doing the Master of Environmental Management and Development, Crawford School graduate Alexander Cox fell in love with research, earning him a University Medal and a scholarship to continue his journey at the school.

After finishing his undergraduate degree, Alexander worked for several years in environmental compliance within the mining industry in New South Wales.

Keen for a new challenge, he was looking for a degree that would provide another perspective on top of his background in environmental science.

“I wanted to do something a little different from a straight postgrad in environmental studies and try something new, so branching into public policy made sense,” he said.

“My favourite part of studying at Crawford was the opportunity to write a research thesis as I had little previous experience with independent research.”

Supervised by Dr Sarah Milne, Alexander’s thesis focused on the newly introduced Biodiversity Offset Scheme in New South Wales, as an example of an emerging market in environmental commodities.

“Biodiversity offsetting is a relatively new policy that has been re-vamped in a big way recently in NSW. The idea behind the scheme is that developers who are clearing land or destroying habitat should be made to pay for credits which they purchase from sellers who are conserving the same habitat types.

“Ideally there should be a market emerging in these habitat credits to incentivise conservation, but the scheme is very complex and so is the process of certifying habitat types. I found during my research that the market is still quite illiquid and much of the task of securing suitable offsets has been transferred from developers to the State Government.”

Alexander scored an exceptional mark for his research, which even saw him win a University Medal.

The University Medal recognises students who have obtained First Class Honours and demonstrated exceptional academic excellence across their studies.

“I was surprised when I found out that I was nominated, I didn’t expect it at all.”

Alexander’s positive experience with academic research had led him to continue his journey at Crawford.

He is commencing a PhD program in 2021, again working with Dr Milne.

“I really enjoyed working with Sarah on my Masters thesis. She was always very supportive as a supervisor and we share many of the same research interests which has made working together a great experience.”

Alexander’s PhD research will critically examine the ways in which environmental services in Australia are being classed as financial assets.

“I want to focus on ecosystem accounting and how “nature” is increasingly being valued and understood in terms of different financial products. I especially want to study how appraisal schemes are developed and applied in practice to “measure” the value of the environment.”

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