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Dr Aiora Zabala

Photo of Aiora Zabala at her desk

Profile summary

Professional biography

I joined the OU Economics Discipline as a Lecturer in January 2022. Prior to that, I was Senior Editor at the journal Nature Sustainability before launch and during its first years. I've taught environmental policy, economics and methods since 2013, mostly at the Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge, where I'm also Senior Fellow. I've published research on a range of sustainability policies from environmental and ecological economics perspectives, such as environmental and conservation programs in rural areas in Mexico and South Africa, deforestation drivers at large scales, peatland fires in Indonesia, and public policy for sustainable transport to industrial estates.

I use a range of methods and tools, including R statistical language, Q methodology, econometrics, multi-criteria decision methods, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and data visualisation.

Research interests

Research focused on challenges for implementation and effectiveness of environmental and sustainability governance across scales, particularly on two areas: understanding the diversity of views on controversial or conflictual issues, and the spatial variability of impacts. This includes adoption and diffusion of sustainable land-use practices, social implications of biodiversity indicators and drivers and motivations of behavioural change.

I approach these questions using a pluralistic methodological approach. Topics include, among others, the social and economic implications of a large wetland restoration program in South Africa, the political economy of rural livelihood change in Mexico, discourses about peatland fire solutions in Indonesia, the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices in the tropical forest frontier, and multi-criteria evaluation of sustainable transport policies.

Recent work includes analysing acceptability of waste-to-energy facilities (with Univ. of Basque Country), barriers for sustainable aquaculture certification (with Univ. of Tokyo), and the sustainability of post-pandemic recovery policies.

Supervising students

Open to supervise research theses on environmental policy and ecological economics, using different methods and also interdisciplinary.

To express your interest, send an email with a brief summary of your research ideas and background.

Teaching interests

Economics and the environment, sustainability policy

Methods, R language and data visualisation

Current PhD Students

Stephen Zhao

Callum Woolley (University of Cambridge)

Impact and engagement

I regularly write a newspaper column and collaborate in live radio in my native language, discussing sustainability and environmental policy matters for a broad audience.


Understanding non-participation in local governance institutions in Indonesia (2024-06)
Miller, Adam; Ahmad, Abrar; Carmenta, Rachel; Zabala, Aiora; Muflihati, ; Kartikawati, Siti Masitoh; Damatashia, Putri; Sagita, Novia and Phelps, Jacob
Biological Conservation, 294, Article 110605

Social equity and pluralism in Nature-based Solutions: Practitioners' perspectives on implementation (2024)
Tallent, Theodore and Zabala, Aiora
Environmental Science & Policy, 151, Article 103624

Challenges beyond reaching a 30% of area protection (2024)
Zabala, Aiora; Palomo, Ignacio; Múgica, Marta and Montes, Carlos
npj Biodiversity, 3, Article 9(1)

Net zero by choice? Oil and gas industry motivations for the energy transition and public policy in Scotland (2023-09-29)
Hughes, Eilidh and Zabala, Aiora
Climate Policy, 23(9) (pp. 1115-1131)

Stakeholder preferences for pangolin conservation interventions in south‐east Nigeria (2023-06)
Emogor, Charles A.; Zabala, Aiora; Adaje, Patience Onyeche; Clark, Douglas; Nielsen, Kristian Steensen and Carmenta, Rachel
People and Nature, 5(3) (pp. 1010-1026)

Waste-to-energy risk perception typology: health, politics and environmental impacts (2023)
Subiza-Pérez, Mikel; Zabala, Aiora; Groten, Daniel; Vozmediano, Laura; Juan, César San and Ibarluzea, Jesús
Journal of Risk Research, 26(10) (pp. 1101-1118)

From participation to commitment in silvopastoral programmes: Insights from Chiapas, Mexico (2022-10)
Zabala, Aiora; Barrios, Luis Enrique García and Pascual, Unai
Ecological Economics, 200, Article 107544

Experts and resource users split over solutions to peatland fires (2021-10)
Phelps, Jacob; Zabala, Aiora; Daeli, Willy and Carmenta, Rachel
World Development, 146, Article 105594

Steps to diversify priority‐setting research in conservation: reflections on de Gracia 2021 (2021-08)
Jucker, Tommaso; Amano, Tatsuya; Bell, Alexandra; Garnett, Emma E.; Geffert, Jan Laurens; Guth, Miriam K.; Hacket‐Pain, Andrew; Luke, Sarah H.; Mumby, Hannah S.; Nunes, Matheus; Rademacher, Tim; Rose, David C.; Schleicher, Judith; Simmons, Benno I.; Zabala, Aiora and Mukherjee, Nibedita
Conservation Biology, 35(4) (pp. 1324-1326)

Evaluating bundles of interventions to prevent peat-fires in Indonesia (2021-03-21)
Carmenta, Rachel; Zabala, Aiora; Trihadmojo, Bambang; Gaveau, David; Salim, Mohammad Agus and Phelps, Jacob
Global Environmental Change, 67, Article 102154

Diverse Perceptions on Eco-Certification for Shrimp Aquaculture in Indonesia (2020)
Azizah, Fahma Fiqhiyyah Nur; Ishihara, Hiroe; Zabala, Aiora; Sakai, Yutaro; Suantika, Gede and Yagi, Nobuyuki
Sustainability, 12(22) (p 9387)

Ten-year assessment of the 100 priority questions for global biodiversity conservation (2018-12)
Jucker, Tommaso; Wintle, Bonnie; Shackelford, Gorm; Bocquillon, Pierre; Geffert, Jan Laurens; Kasoar, Tim; Kovacs, Eszter; Mumby, Hannah S.; Orland, Chloé; Schleicher, Judith; Tew, Eleanor R.; Zabala, Aiora; Amano, Tatsuya; Bell, Alexandra; Bongalov, Boris; Chambers, Josephine M.; Corrigan, Colleen; Durán, América P.; Duvic-Paoli, Leslie-Anne; Emilson, Caroline; Emilson, Erik J.S.; da Silva, Jéssica Fonseca; Garnett, Emma E.; Green, Elizabeth J.; Guth, Miriam K.; Hacket-Pain, Andrew; Hinsley, Amy; Igea, Javier; Kunz, Martina; Luke, Sarah H.; Lynam, William; Martin, Philip A.; Nunes, Matheus H.; Ockendon, Nancy; Pavitt, Aly; Payne, Charlotte L.R.; Plutshack, Victoria; Rademacher, Tim T.; Robertson, Rebecca J.; Rose, David C.; Serban, Anca; Simmons, Benno I.; Tayleur, Catherine; Wordley, Claire F.R. and Mukherjee, Nibedita
Conservation Biology, 32(6) (pp. 1457-1463)

When and how to use Q methodology to understand perspectives in conservation research (2018-10)
Zabala, Aiora; Sandbrook, Chris and Mukherjee, Nibedita
Conservation Biology, 32(5) (pp. 1185-1194)

Comparison of techniques for eliciting views and judgements in decision‐making (2018-01)
Mukherjee, Nibedita; Zabala, Aiora; Huge, Jean; Nyumba, Tobias Ochieng; Adem Esmail, Blal; Sutherland, William J. and Everard, Mark
Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 9(1) (pp. 54-63)

Perceptions across scales of governance and the Indonesian peatland fires (2017-09)
Carmenta, Rachel; Zabala, Aiora; Daeli, Willy and Phelps, Jacob
Global Environmental Change, 46 (pp. 50-59)

Payments for Pioneers? Revisiting the Role of External Rewards for Sustainable Innovation under Heterogeneous Motivations (2017-05)
Zabala, Aiora; Pascual, Unai and García-Barrios, Luis
Ecological Economics, 135 (pp. 234-245)

Multilevel assessment of a large-scale programme for poverty alleviation and wetland conservation: lessons from South Africa (2017)
Zabala, Aiora and Sullivan, Caroline A.
Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 61(3) (pp. 493-514)

Precolonial institutions and deforestation in Africa (2016-02)
Larcom, S.; van Gevelt, T. and Zabala, A.
Land Use Policy, 51 (pp. 150-161)

Bootstrapping Q Methodology to Improve the Understanding of Human Perspectives (2016)
Zabala, Aiora and Pascual, Unai
PLoS ONE, 11, Article e0148087(2)

qmethod: A Package to Explore Human Perspectives Using Q Methodology (2014)
Zabala, Aiora
The R Journal, 6(2) (pp. 163-173)

Walking the green carpet to work (2009)
Zabala, Aiora
International Journal of Sustainable Development, 12(1) (pp. 78-94)

Integrating Multiple Perspectives in Social Multicriteria Evaluation of Flood-Mitigation Alternatives: The Case of Malborghetto-Valbruna (2008)
Scolobig, Anna; Broto, Vanesa Castán and Zabala, Aiora
Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 26(6) (pp. 1143-1161)