Call for Research Partnerships

Linking Critical Environmental Functions and Ecosystem Services for Nature-Related Physical Risk Assessment

AFD is conducting research to improve the qualification of physical risks related to biodiversity loss for financial actors and macro-financial balances of countries. In this context, and following on from work on the limits of physical biodiversity scenarios, AFD’s research department is launching a call for research partnerships to develop a pragmatic approach to assessing physical risks that requires improving proxies while being aware of their imperfect nature.
The call is open until the end of May 2023 with a view to carrying out the research between June and November 2023.
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Appel à partenariat de recherche : Relier les fonctions environnementales critiques et les services écosystémiques pour l'évaluation des risques physiques liés à la nature

The Call for Research Partnerships

In a recent literature review (Maurin et al., 2022), we found only a few comprehensive and quantitative physical risk scenarios that allow decision-makers to assess the risks of regime shifts in ecosystem services (ES) in a quantitative and comprehensive way for all countries of the world. While waiting for robust dynamic models to be developed, we have proposed in this publication that a short-term alternative for building physical risk scenario narratives is to use the methodological approach of the Environmental Sustainability Gap (ESGAP) framework in conjunction with the ENCORE tool published by UNEP WCMC and NCFA. 

The latest developments in ESGAP in Europe have led to the establishment of the Strong Environmental Sustainability Progress Index (SESPI), which indicates whether countries are moving towards or away from good environmental status standards (Usubiaga-Liaño & Ekins, 2022). The SESPI comprises 19 indicators of critical environmental functions. For each of these sub-indicators, it measures whether, under current trends and within a targeted time horizon, the critical environmental functions are approaching or moving away from a safe operating space for the economy and thus the risk of encountering a tipping point.

Based on the trends of the 19 environmental functions included in the European SESPI and without predicting a tipping point, this methodology allows for the development of a 'ceteris paribus' biophysical risk scenario narrative indicating which critical environmental functions are particularly degrading and whether an economy is moving closer or further away from the likelihood of certain ES regime shifts occurring. 

However, to achieve this, the mapping tables between the 19 ESGAP critical environmental functions and the 21 ENCORE ecosystem services still need to be specified in order to be able to deduce how the degradation of critical environmental functions can be passed on to all sectors of the economy due to their dependence on ecosystem services.

The objective of the research is therefore to establish, after a scoping literature review, an analytical framework linking ESGAP's critical environmental functions to ENCORE's ecosystem services in order to facilitate the assessment of nature-related physical risks.

The best research partnership proposal submitted in response to this call will be selected and co-financed by AFD. In the absence of a satisfactory partnership proposal, AFD reserves the right not to proceed with this call.

Eligible project proponents:

Universities and research centres, NGOs, private foundations, international research centres, companies (including consultancies and individual consultants) who will share the costs of the research and make all their research public. Proposals for research partnerships are expected to imply that:

  • No partner (AFD and the proposal owner) will acquire exclusive ownership of the results. This condition implies the sharing of rights, particularly those relating to intellectual property that may arise from the execution of the contract, between AFD and the proposal holder.
  • That proposals based on sharing the financial cost of the research to be carried out will be preferred (it is specified here that proposals for study services invoiced at consultant rates will not be accepted).

The composition of the research team of the research partnership should have preferably the following profile :

  • Education: PhD or MsC equivalent in Ecology and Ecological Economics.
  • Mixed proven expertise in (i) biodiversity ecosystem services, ecosystem functions and ecosystem conditions studies and in (ii) ecological economics, economics of ecosystem services and strong sustainability studies.
Geographical areas:

The geographical scope of the research is global and should not lead to specific and usable results for regions or a few countries of the world only. The objective is to propose a global analytical framework that can be generalised to all geographies.

Activities concerned and expected deliverables:

The expectations of the research partnership are detailed in the downloadable file below. It provides for : 

  • Conducting a scoping literature review to identify the scope or coverage of the ecological literature on the link between Critical Environmental Functions and the delivery of Ecosystem Services. In this case, the purpose is to identify the scope of literature covering critical environmental functions and what kind of ecosystem services they provide.
  • The production (based on the previous literature review) of an analytical framework linking ESGAP environmental functions to ENCORE ecosystem services. The aim is that it will be eventually possible to deduce from the degraded environmental functions identified in ESGAP which ecosystem services integrated in the ENCORE tool might be affected.

The results should lead to the writing of a draft research article based on the scoping literature review, possibly to submit to a peer-reviewed research publication, a research report on the proposed analytical framework published in the AFD collection and a policy paper published in the AFD collection.

Available budget:

The total budget all taxes included that AFD may assume under its co-financing for this research is estimated at:

  • 30 person x working days of senior researchers (principal investigator)
  • 140 person x working days of junior researchers (can be a team with multiple expertise)

The additional expenses (share of staff costs or additional research costs not invoiced to AFD) borne by the partner’s proposal holder as part of co-financing will have to be explained in detail.

Research projects duration:

The research must be completed by November 30th, 2023.


  • Launch of the call for research partnership: April 25th, 2023
  • Closing date for requests for clarification: May 24th, 2023 (14:00 CEST)
  • Closing of the call: May 31th, 2023 (20:00 CEST)
  • Award and contracting to the successful bidders: Mid-june 2023

Submit a project

  1. Download the rules for the Call for research partnership on the Analytical framework linking critical environmental functions (in ESGAP framework) and the provision of ecosystem services (in ENCORE tool) to help Nature Related Physical Risk assessment.
  2. Fill in the online form


Question 1 : I would like to know if adherence to the schedule is a deal breaker? The deadlines are quite tight and we would like to propose an alternative schedule. Is it possible?

The research timetable in chapter 3.7. is indicative and its start before the end of 2023 is really the only non-negotiable condition. 
In fact, there is no selection criterion in Chapter 7.3. on the strict respect of the research timetable and adjustments can therefore be proposed by the applicants.

Question 2 : What is the rate of financing provided by AFD (as a % of the total budget of the proposed project)? What expenses are eligible for funding?

There is no maximum % of the total project budget provided by AFD, but an estimated maximum amount that AFD can finance to contribute to this research partnership, i.e. approximately 30 person x researcher days of senior researchers and 140 person x researcher days of junior researchers (cf. chapter 3.4.), estimated on the basis of researcher cost-sharing rates observed in previous research partnerships concluded by AFD with various research partners. 
In other words, if AFD were to fund 100% of the (30 + 140) person x researcher days indicated in chapter 3.4., the research partner would be expected to propose an additional number of person x expert days which it would in turn fund at 100%. Alternatively, a % cost-sharing of the (30 + 140) person x days indicated in chapter 3.4. could be proposed, with the possibility of increasing and exceeding this indicative number of (30+140) person x days estimated to be equally cost-shared between the AFD and the research partner.

Eligible expenditure is indicated in chapter 4.3.
In the case of this type of research partnership, it is traditionally proposed to share the costs of salaries of senior and junior researchers or to share the costs of carrying out the research. Budget table 3.1 in Annex 3 gives an idea of possible cost-sharing.

Question 3 : Is the service (drafting of project reports/documents) to be carried out exclusively in English or only the scientific publications?

Research (writing reports/project documents) does not have to be carried out exclusively in English (cf. § 7.2.). However, it is expected that proposals for scientific publications will be written in English.

Question 4 : It would be of great use to us to know if a private company, not belonging to any consortium, is eligible to this call ? 

Yes, indeed, companies (including consultancies and individual consultants) who will share the costs of the research and make all their research public (no research involving a confidentiality agreement on the results and/or giving rise to patenting, cf. §6 Intellectual property right of research results) are eligible proponents to submit to the call. Consortium are not compulsory but are welcome (cf. § 4.1.).
As stated in the call and in chapter 4.1, in all cases, but perhaps more particularly for private companies, what we will look at carefully is whether the proposal will be based on sharing the financial cost of the research with a leverage effect at least as good as, if not better than, what we can get from public partners. In this respect, we have insisted in chapter 4.1. that proposals for study services charged at consultant rates will not be accepted, as we are looking for a partnership with the most mutually beneficial cost sharing possible.

Question 5 : We would be interested to understand better the profile of the senior researcher you are looking for ?

We do not have fixed requirements as we also take into account the expertise and approach of the candidates who are interested in entering into a research partnership with us. We are waiting to study all the proposals that will be submitted to us in order to judge the expertise and profiles that seem to be the most judicious with regard to the objectives of the partnership and the approach proposed to us by the various partners. In short, we are very open to proposals for senior researcher profiles and do not want to block the initiatives and creativity of candidates who wish to work with us.
Having said that, however, we imagine (as indicated in Chapter 5 Selection criteria) that the subject could certainly require the mobilisation of one or more senior researchers in the fields of ecology (for the question of environmental functions and ecosystem services) as well as in the field of economic ecology (to ensure that the purpose of using this research, for the purposes of analysing physical risk, both economic and financial, is not lost along the way).

Question 6 : Are we allowed to add budget lines?

Yes, you can add a budget line in Table 3.1 of the appendix 3.
If this type of budget line does not correspond to the list of eligible costs given in Chapter 4.3, the easiest way is for you to pay for it yourself from your own contribution to the research partnership. However, if you wish to ask AFD to cover a cost that is not listed in the list of eligible costs in Chapter 4.3 and to enter a budget line in Table 3-1 of Appendix 3 for this purpose, you may do so, but we cannot guarantee that AFD will be able to cover it. This could result in your proposal not being accepted.

Question 7 : I would like to confirm the below timeline:
  • Activity 1 (Planning the project): Mid-June till end of June (12 working days, 0.5 calendar month)
  • Activity 2 (Reviewing the literature): Beginning of July 2023 – Mid-August 2023 (32 working days, 1.5 calendar months)
  • Activity 3 (Analyzing the research data and developing the framework): Mid-August 2023 – End of September (43 working days, 1.5 calendar months)
  • Activity 4 (Disseminating the research findings): Beginning of October 2023 – Mid-November 2023 (40 working days, 1.5 calendar months)
  • Activity 5 (Closing the project): End of November 2023 (11 working days, 0.5 calendar months)?
  • We cannot answer this question without examining the entire proposal. 

This type of question cannot be answered at this stage and will be dealt with when analysing all the proposals received.

Question 8 : Does the timeline exclude AFD approvals and possible delays?

The timetable for the implementation of the research partnership should take into account a minimum of 10 working days for AFD approval of deliverables (excluding holiday periods).
It is up to you whether or not to include in your schedule a margin of uncertainty and security regarding possible delays in the completion of all planned activities. But in any case, it is preferable to state clearly in your proposal whether or not your timetable includes this type of uncertainty.
This type of information does not eliminatory, but in either case (with or without uncertainty built into your timetable) it helps us to better understand your proposal.

Download the FAQ related to this call for research partnships