Sara Velander


Sara Velander
© grasp
Sara Velander
Graduate School of Politics
Scharnhorststraße 100
48151 Münster
  • Projekt

    Titel: Integrated Pathways for Coherent Land Use Decisions: Untangling and Embracing Complexity in Science-Policy Interfaces in the Sustainable Development Context

    Land assumes multiple roles in social-ecological systems, providing essential ecosystem services for humans and animals alike, such as a food, feed, fiber, timber, energy, freshwater, biodiversity, climate regulation, and pollination (IPBES, 2019; IPCC, 2019). Over the past century, 70% of the global land surface has been exploited by humans, contributing to cumulative climate-, health-, and biodiversity-crises faced by today’s society (IPBES, 2019; IPCC, 2019; UNCCD, 2020). The international community has responded to these complex and inter-linked global environmental problems through a range of cross-cutting and multiscale governance mechanisms, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of Agenda 2030, one of the key global instruments for addressing multifaceted land issues (Dinerstein et al., 2019; IPBES, 2019). However, the comprehensive nature of the SDGs implies tradeoffs between targets, with some goals entailing higher rates and more destructive forms of land use culminating in adverse impacts on human wellbeing and environmental conditions (IPBES, 2019; UN, 2015, p. 42; UNCCD, 2020).

    With many public interventions to implement Agenda 2030 operating in silos, there are resounding calls for policy coherence that enhances synergies and minimizes conflicts of land use decisions. Scholars emphasize the need for evidence-based advice on integrated policy options that consider inter-dependencies among sectors and creates a common interest to address these challenges (Engels, 2005; UN, 2015, p. 32; UNCCD, 2020; von Maltitz, 2020; Watson, 2005). Science-policy interfaces (SPIs), defined as the exchange of evidence between scientists, policymakers, knowledge holders and users, who can use this information to influence the outcomes of policy decisions on the environment (UNEP, 2017), have the potential to fill knowledge gaps and foster concerted action on complex environmental issues. While SPIs attempt to bridge the traditional disconnect between science and policy, the institutional arrangements and outputs of SPIs are persistently detached from social-political contexts and other interlinked issues (Jabbour & Flachsland, 2017; Koetz, 2011; Koetz et al., 2012; Sarkki et al., 2020). Combined with the lack of collaboration among different SPIs, relevant organizations and diverse actors, their capacity to influence policies is undermined which makes it more challenging for policymakers to tackle the increasing complexity of pressing societal problems, such as, rampant land use change (Koetz, 2011; Koetz et al., 2012; UN, 2015, p. 30).

    Effective sustainability politics hinge on SPIs fulfilling their role of providing policymakers the best available information from diverse knowledge systems on complex problems. In this study, I confront the aforementioned challenges by examining how global SPIs cope with complexity of SDGs related to land use and the extent to which this complex knowledge generated by SPIs is reflected in national decisions on biodiversity conservation and agricultural production in Kenya, a country characterized by mounting land pressures.

    Before I explore these specific dimensions of SPIs, it is crucial to gain a comprehensive understanding of the scholarly discourse on how SPIs impact policy in the sustainable development context as well as the processes and structures SPIs adopt to achieve successful outcomes. Under this first objective I will conduct a systematic review of the literature as well as a discourse analysis through a set of semi-structures interviews with experts and practitioners of global SPIs, such as the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For the second objective, I will use social network analysis, quantitative text analysis, process tracing and benchmarking, to identify how and the extent to which formalized, global SPIs cope with complexity. The systematic review will inform a set of independent variables I will develop to explain, firstly, the extent that SPI outputs (assessments and special reports) address complex land use issues (thematic coverage, structure, breadth and length etc.), and, secondly, the extent that SPIs cope with complexity in their outputs (institutional arrangements, networks, diverse stakeholder engagement etc.). In the third objective, I will, initially, use stakeholder identification and analysis to identify the global SPI actors and Kenyan policy actors who interact and exchange complex knowledge on issues of biodiversity conservation and agricultural production, two relevant, potentially synergistic and conflicting issues in Kenya. In a second step I will use quantitative text analysis to assess the extent that global SPIs and core messages related to conflicts and synergies of biodiversity conservation and agricultural production are referenced in national policy documents.

    In sum, the foremost aim of this research project is identifying the range of ways different SPIs at the global context cope with complexity in SDGs related to land use and determining the implications of global SPIs coping with complexity on national policy processes, with Kenya as a case study. The findings will suggest whether particular global SPIs achieve desired outcomes of making a substantive impact on sustainable development. The research findings aim to improve the coherence of land use advice provided by SPIs to developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with the potential to mitigate land use conflicts and enhance land use synergies for the sustainable management of natural resources.


    • Dinerstein, E., Vynne, C., Sala, E., Joshi, A. R., Fernando, S., Lovejoy, T. E., Mayorga, J., Olson, D., Asner, G. P., Baillie, J. E. M., Burgess, N. D., Burkart, K., Noss, R. F., Zhang, Y. P., Baccini, A., Birch, T., Hahn, N., Joppa, L. N., & Wikramanayake, E. (2019). A Global Deal For Nature: Guiding principles, milestones, and targets. Science Advances, 5(4), eaaw2869.
    • Engels, A. (2005). The Science-Policy Interface. The Integrated Assessment Journal, 5(1), 7–26.
    • IPBES. (2019). The global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services: Summary for policymakers. S. Díaz, J. Settele, E. S. Brondízio E.S., H. T. Ngo, M. Guèze, J. Agard, A. Arneth, P. Balvanera, K. A. Brauman, S. H. M. Butchart, K. M. A. Chan, L. A. Garibaldi, K. Ichii, J. Liu, S. M. Subramanian, G. F. Midgley, P. Miloslavich, Z. Molnár, D. Obura, A. Pfaff, S. Polasky, A. Purvis, J. Razzaque, B. Reyers, R. Roy Chowdhury, Y. J. Shin, I. J. Visseren-Hamakers, K. J. Willis, and C. N. Zayas (eds.). (p. 56). IPBES secretariat.
    • IPCC. (2019). Climate Change and Land: An IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. Summary for Policymakers. P.R.Shukla,J.Skea,E.CalvoBuendia,V.Masson-Delmotte, H.-O. Pörtner, D. C. Roberts, P. Zhai, R. Slade, S. Connors, R. van Diemen, M. Ferrat, E. Haughey, S. Luz, S. Neogi, M. Pathak, J. Petzold, J. Portugal Pereira, P. Vyas, E. Huntley, K. Kissick, M. Belkacemi, J. Malley, (eds.).
    • Jabbour, J., & Flachsland, C. (2017). 40 years of global environmental assessments: A retrospective analysis. Environmental Science & Policy, 77, 193–202.
    • Koetz, T. (2011). Institutional dynamics of science-policy interfaces in international biodiversity governance. Autonomous University of Barcelona.
    • Koetz, T., Farrell, K. N., & Bridgewater, P. (2012). Building better science-policy interfaces for international environmental governance: Assessing potential within the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 12(1), 1–21.
    • Sarkki, S., Balian, E., Heink, U., Keune, H., Nesshöver, C., Niemelä, J., Tinch, R., Van Den Hove, S., Watt, A., Waylen, K. A., & Young, J. C. (2020). Managing science-policy interfaces for impact: Interactions within the environmental governance meshwork. Environmental Science & Policy, 113, 21–30.
    • UN. (2015). Global Sustainable Development Report: 2015 Edition. Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
    • UNCCD. (2020). Supporting the Global Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Land-based Solutions for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet.
    • UNEP. (2017). Strengthening the Science-Policy Interface: A gap analysis.
    • von Maltitz, G. P. (2020). Harnessing science-policy interface processes for tackling sustainability challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Sustainability Challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa II: Insights from Eastern and Southern Africa. A. Gasparatos, M. Naidoo, A. Ahmed, A. Karanja, K. Fukushi, O. Saito, and K. Takeuchi (eds). Springer Singapore.
    • Watson, R. T. (2005). Turning science into policy: Challenges and experiences from the science–policy interface. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 360(1454), 471–477.





  • Werdegang

    Akademische Ausbildung

    06/2021 Aufnahme in die Graduate School of Politics (GraSP), Institut für Politikwissenschaft, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster.
    09/2018-06/2020 Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree (MSc) in Umweltwissenschaften, Politik und Management (MESPOM) in Ungarn, Griechenland, Schweden und Großbritannien


    Auslandsstudium, International Honors Program on Climate Change: The Politics of Food, Water, and Energy in den USA, Vietnam, Marokko und Bolivien
    09/2013-06/2017 Bachelorstudium Humanökologie am College of the Atlantic, USA


    Beruflicher Werdegang

    seit 11/2020 Nachwuchsforscherin am Zentrum für Entwicklungsforschung (ZEF)
    06/2019-08/2019 Praktikum im Bereich Landwirtschaft und Investitionen am International Institute for Sustainable Government, Schweiz
    05/2018-06/2018 Praktikum im Bereich Kommunikation bei SwedBio im Stockholm Resilience Centre, Schweden
    03/2017-06/2017 Lehrassistentin am College of the Atlantic, USA
    12/2014-11/2016 Delegierte des College of the Atlantic auf der 20., 21. und 22. Konferenz der Vertragsparteien des Rahmenübereinkommens der Vereinten Nationanen über Klimaänderungen
    06/2016-08/2016 Praktikantin im Bereich Schutzgebietserhaltung bei  Rainforest Trust
    09/2013-11/2015 Gebäude- und Bodenbüroassistentin am College of the Atlantic, USA




  • Publikationen

    • Velander, Sara; Silva Martinelli, Fernanda; Idam Sari, Dewi; Ali, Fatima; Biber-Freudenberger, Lisa (2021): A dichotomy of domestic and academic pathways: challenges of motherhood in an international doctoral program on land science. In: Journal of Land Use Science, S. 1–19








  • Weiteres


    • Complex systems, sustainable livelihoods, socio-ecological resilience
    • Science policy interactions on the environment
    • Land use, biodiversity and food security & sovereignty
    • Development politics
    • Land governance and environmental conflict

    Sonstige Mitgliedschaften

    • Mitglied, Earth in Brackets
    • Gründungsmitglied, College of the Atlantic Zero Waste Club


    • Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s Degree Scholar, 2018-2020
    • College of the Atlantic Presidential Scholar, 2013-2017