Call for expression of interest

Research on Strong Environmental Sustainability Assessments in Developing Countries

Building on the ESGAP methodology, AFD is seeking propositions to conduct research on sustainability assessments in a multi-country perspective in developing countries. This call for expressions of interest is the first phase of the selection process. The aim is to fund one to two research projects, tentatively starting in September 2022.
The call is open until 27 May 2022 (20h00 GMT). It is financed under the biodiversity research program "Encouraging the Development of a Pro-Nature Economy" (ECOPRONAT).
  • logo linkedin
  • logo email
Comment accélérer la transition territoriale et écologique ?


This is a call for expressions of interest for research on the development of strong environmental sustainability assessments and indices for developing countries. AFD’s research department has been developing the ESGAP framework (for Environmental Sustainability GAP) in order to inform on the sustainability trajectory of countries, and to provide a tool for all stakeholders to engage on natural capital issues and policies. The ESGAP is built on strong environmental sustainability principles. It considers elements of natural capital and of natural processes that are critical for life and human welfare, and presents the most relevant data on their condition. With this data, the ESGAP allows to compute the remaining gap to a sustainable state. More details can be found in “Usubiaga-Liaño, A., & Ekins, P. (2021). Time for Science-Based National Targets for Environmental Sustainability: An Assessment of Existing Metrics and the ESGAP Framework. Frontiers in Environmental Science, 524.” and the documentation of this call. All proposals need to refer to this conceptual framework.

There is currently a lack of resources to inform relevant environmental sustainability assessments, and most tools do not comply with strong environmental sustainability principles. There is a general lack of suitable data on the condition of the environment, and few approaches rely on science-based standards to give a clear definition of environmental sustainability. There is an urgent need for methodologies and tools to help incorporate such science-based environmental standards in decision making processes, whether for environmental policy, advocacy, or for managing natural resources.

The objective of this call is to build upon the existing ESGAP framework, in order to foster research and develop tools and processes for better environmental sustainability assessments, and better use of these assessments for all stakeholders and at all levels of governance in developing countries. The ESGAP relies on science-based sustainability standards and good environmental data. Putting the ESGAP to use requires advancing on data availability, but also on standards, as well as on the ways to link these to policies, pledges, dashboards, accounting frameworks, projects, etc.

The call will shortlist outstanding research proposals, the promoters of which will then be invited to develop a complete proposal for final selection in the second phase.

The objectives of the research must be: To develop strong environmental sustainability assessments and indexes for developing countries by building on the ESGAP framework. This framework always makes explicit use of both biophysical indicators – the current condition – and science-based environmental standards – the sustainability target. Avenues of research include (but are not necessarily limited to): 

  • Working on sources or methods of data treatment for enhancing data availability and quality to build key biophysical indicators. It has proven especially difficult to monitor the capacity of ecosystems to absorb wastes or to sustain biodiversity.
  • Improving existing science-based environmental standards of good ecological status for all critical elements of natural capital, or propose methods for creating new ones. Varying cultural contexts and social norms make global definitions challenging.
  • Devising possible applications for ESGAP assessments and ESGAP indexes, facilitating their use by all stakeholders. Applications can range from building bridges with existing tools and frameworks, facilitating science-based standards in policy-making, to constructing sustainable development trajectories.
Eligible project leaders:

All legal entities meeting these criteria will be eligible, including universities and research centers, NGOs, private foundations, international research centers and companies (including consultancy firms and individual consultants). All research results, methodologies, codes and data produced by this this research will be accessible with open data licenses.
Special attention will be given to propositions including research institutions and experts based in developing countries.

Geographies concerned:

The research must be conducted in developing countries, with a multi-country perspective. Proposals for pilots in a single country may apply if they make a significant methodological contribution to the objectives of this call and demonstrate their replicability in other geographies.
Special attention will be given to proposals applied in Colombia or South Africa.

Sectors/themes concerned:

The themes concerned by this call are the critical components of natural capital as listed in the ESGAP methodology. The following table lists and describes the four main critical functions of natural capital included in the ESGAP, as well as a list of the components included in the pilot study conducted in EU countries.  


Sustainability objectives Description Critical components used in the pilot study conducted in EU countries
Maintain the capacity of natural capital to supply resources The renewal of renewable resources must be fostered through the maintenance of soil fertility, hydrobiological cycles and necessary vegetative cover and the rigorous enforcement of sustainable harvesting. - Food resources
- Forest resources
- Fish resources
- Surface water resources
- Groundwater resources
Depletion of non-renewable resources should seek to balance the maintenance of a minimum life-expectancy of the resource with the development of substitutes for it. - Soil resources
- Mineral resources
Maintain the capacity of natural capital to absorb, disperse or dilute wastes, without incurring ecosystem change or damage Anthropogenic destabilization of global environmental processes, such as climate patterns or the ozone layer, must be prevented. - Climate change
- Stratospheric ozone depletion
Emissions into air, soil and water must not exceed their critical level and/or critical load, that is the capability of the receiving media to disperse, absorb, neutralize and recycle them, without disturbing other functions. - Pollution of terrestrial ecosystems by ozone, heavy metals, eutrophication, acidification
- Pollution of freshwater ecosystems
- Pollution of groundwater
- Pollution of marine ecosystems
Maintain the capacity of natural capital to sustain ecosystem health and function Critical ecosystems and ecological features must be absolutely protected to maintain biological diversity, which underpins the productivity and resilience of ecosystems. - Health of terrestrial ecosystems
- Health of freshwater ecosystems
- Health of marine ecosystems
Maintain the capacity of natural capital to maintain human health and generate human welfare in other ways Emissions into air, soil and water must not exceed dangerous levels for human health.  - Outdoor air pollution
- Indoor air pollution
- Drinking water pollution
Natural capital elements of special human or ecological significance, because of their rarity, aesthetic quality, recreational values or cultural or spiritual associations, should be preserved. - Natural amenities
- Existence of natural sites
- Proximity to natural recreational spaces


Budget available: (in euros including VAT)/

The available budget under this call is 217.000 €. Research that is co-funded by other bodies is welcome as long as it meets the criteria set out in this call. 

Duration of the projects:

The selected projects must be completed by 30 September 2024 at the latest.


  • Launch of this Call for Expressions of Interest: 12 April 2022
  • Closing date for requests for clarification: 13 May 2022
  • Closure of the Call for Expressions of Interest: 27 May 2022 (20h00 GMT)
  • Drafting of complete projects for the shortlisted proposals: From 20 June to 19 August 2022 (to be confirmed)
  • Awarding of contracts to the successful bidders: 5 September 2022 (to be confirmed)
  • Start of the projects: September 2022 (to be confirmed)


Key ESGAP publications:

Rules of the Call for Expression of Interest on research on strong environmental sustainability assessments in developing countries: