skip to primary navigation skip to content

Rachel Carmenta Ph.D

Rachel Carmenta Ph.D

Frank Jackson Research Fellow at Wolfson College

Rachel is an interdisciplinary environmental scientist, broadly interested in the human and governance dimensions of tropical forest conservation.


Rachel is an interdisciplinary environmental scientist broadly interested in the human and governance dimensions of tropical forest conservation with a geographic focus in Indonesia and Brazil. Rachel holds a Ph.D in interdisciplinary environmental science from Lancaster University and is inspired by combining methods and scales of analysis to study environmental change. At Cambridge Rachel is a Frank Jackson Research Fellow at Wolfson College in an interdepartmental position (Geography, Plant Sciences, Zoology) based at the University of Cambridge Conservation Institute (UCCRI). Before joining UCCRI, Rachel was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) where she led a research project contributing a human dimension to understanding the performance of fire management policy in Indonesia's oil palm frontiers.


  • Aug 2017 - present, Frank Jackson Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Interdepartmental (Geography, Plant Sciences and Zoology) with University of Cambridge Conservation Initiative (UCCRI).
  • 2017 - Consultant for Global Landscapes Forum (GLF), served on the scientific advisory board for the Peatlands Matter GLF event, supported outreach and engagement.
  • 2013 - 2017, Internationally recruited Post Doctoral Fellow, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Forests and Governance, Bogor, Indonesia. Led a research component in an interdisciplinary research project "The Political Economy of Fire and Haze" focussing on the socio-political dimensions of peat fire management in Indonesia.
  • 2012, Post Doctoral Researcher, Tropical Land Use Change and Ecology, Lab Dept. Lancaster Environment Center, Lancaster University. Research Project: Linking research and environmental education to reduce Amazonian wildfires.
  • 2008, Research Officer, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Forests and Livelihoods, Belém, Brazil. Research Project: Valuable and vulnerable: exploring local innovation and sustainable production of forest products in the Brazilian Amazon.
  • 2006-2007, Climate Change Research Officer, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Forests and Environment, Bogor, Indonesia. Point of contact for the inaugural Forest Day in Bali, 2006.
  • 2006, Research Assistant, School of Biology, University of East Anglia, UK.


  • 2009 - 2013, Ph.D., Tropical Land Use Change and Ecology Lab; Society and Environment Group, Dept. Lancaster Environment Center, Lancaster University.
    Dissertation: From earth observations to ethnography: examining swidden fire management in the Brazilian Amazon
  • 2002 - 2006, BSc (Hons)., Ecology, Schools: Biological Sciences, Development, Environmental Science, University of East Anglia (First class honors)
  • Languages: English (Native); Indonesian (Advanced); Portuguese (Proficient)

Hosted researcher

  • Dept. Anthropology, Research Centre. Anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change (ACT), Indiana University
  • Dept. Remote Sensing, National Institute for Space Research (INPE), São José dos Campos, Brazil

Awards and scholarships

  • 2017, Frank Jackson Research Fellowship
  • 2017, Marie Curie Research Fellowship Seal of Excellence for proposal: Fire Free Futures: Human Dimensions of Peatland Fires in Indonesia.
  • 2009, PhD full scholarship, joint funded interdisciplinary program of the National Economic Research Council (NERC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).


My research interest focuses on the performance of environmental policy in the forested tropics of the global south. My entry point in this area has been through analysis of human-fire interactions and forest governance, particularly in rural marginalized communities of the Brazilian Amazon and more recently in the dynamic carbon-dense frontier of Indonesia's peatlands.

My most recent research explored the governance challenges related to sustainable management of peatland forest landscapes in Sumatra, Indonesia. I approached this through generating an improved understanding of the perceptions and discourses of diverse stakeholders (e.g. from farmers to National and International policy makers) in the governance arena. Research at the site level gave additional insights in to the performance of interventions. Socio-economic determinants of land management decisions complement a set of potential cultural determinants, namely place-based value data, to explain divergent performance. Using QCA, village level (e.g. connectivity, land use cover) remote data was analysed with proximate data to identify the configuration of conditions (proximate and remote) that create outcomes through multiple-causation.

Previously I focused my academic energy on improving the knowledge base regarding the performance of sustainable use reserves in the context of fire management in the Brazilian Amazon. I used multiple geographic scales of analysis - from large scale, Amazon wide, to micro-scale (household level) and appropriate methodologies (from earth observation to ethnography) to quantify the impact of reserve establishment on fire densities, and to quantify and explain the performance of fire management policy. I have worked with a global comparative research team to understand the equity, effectiveness and efficiency of REDD+, specifically focusing at the national policy level, using policy network analysis.

Currently, I am working in an interdepartmental research group with Dr. Bhaskar Vira, Prof. Andrew Balmford and Prof. David Coomes at the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute. The goal of this new research project is to test the emerging idea that if they are to be equitable and effective, efforts to safeguard (or restore) tropical forests must be linked to compensatory increases in agricultural outputs outside of forests.



  • Maharani, C.D., Moeliono, M., Wong, G. Y., Brockhaus, M., Carmenta, R., & Kallio, M. (2019). Development and equity: A gendered inquiry in a swidden landscape. Forest Policy and Economics.
  • Carmenta, R., Coudel, E; Steward, A. (2018) Forbidden Fire: Does criminalizing fire hinder conservation efforts in swidden landscapes of the Brazilian Amazon? Geographical Journal.
  • Carmenta, R., Zabala, A., Daeli, W, Phelps, J. (2017). Perceptions across scales of governance and the Indonesian peatland fires. Global Environmental Change.
  • Gebara, M. F., May, P. H., Carmenta, R., Calixto, B.,Brockhaus, M., Gregorio, M. D. (2017). Framing REDD+ in the Brazilian national media: how discourses evolved amid global negotiation uncertainties. Climatic Change. doi:10.1007/s10584-017-1896-1. Selected for "Research Highights" paper with Nature Climate Change
  • Wijedasa, L. S., Jauhiainen, J., Könönen, M., Lampela, M., Vasander, H., LeBlanc, M. C., ...Carmenta, R, ... & Lupascu, M. (2016). Denial of long-term issues with agriculture on tropical peatlands will have devastating consequences. Global Change Biology. doi:10.1111/gcb.13516
  • Gaveau, D; Pirard, R, Salim, M; Prayoto, T, Yaen, H; Parks, S; Carmenta, R., (2016). Overlapping land claims limit the use of satellites to monitor No-Deforestation commitments and No-Burning compliance. Conservation Letters. doi:10.1111/conl.12256
  • Carmenta, R; Blackburn, A; Davies, G; de Sassi, C; Lima, A; Parry, L; Tych, W; Barlow, J. (2016). Does the Establishment of Sustainable Use Reserves Affect Fire Management in the Humid Tropics? PloS one 11.2: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0149292
  • Babon, A; McIntyre, D; Gallemore, C; Carmenta, R; Di Gregorio, M; Brockhaus, M. (2014). Advocacy coalitions, REDD+, and forest governance in Papua New Guinea: How likely is transformational change? Ecology and Society. 19(3): 16. doi:10.5751/ES-06486-190316
  • Pham, T; Di Gregorio, M; Carmenta, R; Brockhaus, M; Dung Le. (2014). The REDD+ Policy arena in Vietnam: participation of policy actors. Ecology and Society. 19(2): 22. doi:10.5751/ES-06389-190222
  • Brockhaus, M; Di Gregorio, M; Carmenta, R. (2014). REDD+ policy networks: exploring actors and power structures in an emerging policy domain. Ecology and Society. 19(4): 29. doi:10.5751/ES-07098-190429
  • Carmenta, R; Vermeylen, S; Parry, L., Barlow. (2013). Shifting cultivation and fire policy: insights from the Brazilian Amazon. Human Ecology. 41(4), doi:10.1007/s10745-013-9600-1
  • Barlow, J; Parry, L; Toby A. Gardner, T.A; Ferreira, J; Aragão, L. E. O. C; Carmenta, R; Berenguer, E; Vieira, I.G;, Souza, C.,Cochrane, M. A. (2012). The critical importance of considering fire in REDD+ programs. Biological Conservation, 03 (34): doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2012.03.034
  • Carmenta, R; Parry, L; Blackburn, A; Vermeylen, S., Barlow, J (2011). Understanding human-fire interactions in tropical forest regions: a case for interdisciplinary research across the natural and social sciences. Ecology and Society, 16 (1)
  • Shanley, P; da Serra Silva, M; Melo, T; Carmenta, R., Nasi, R. (2011). Conflict of use to multiple use: Forest management innovations by small holders in Amazonian logging frontiers. Forest Ecology and Management. 268. 70-80. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2011.05.041

Reports and policy papers

Media and outreach

  • 2017, Indonesia's peatland fires and toxic haze: Media discourses across scales of governance. Infographic summary of Porter-Jacobs, L., Dressler, W., Carmenta, R.
  • 2017, Jefferson, U. and Carmenta, R. Peatland Fire Policy: from Past to Present. CIFOR Forest News.
  • 2016, Carmenta, R. and Vaughn, Bjorn. Living in a toxic haze: The daily reality of Indonesia's peatland fires. CIFOR Forest News.
  • 2016, Carmenta, R., Pod Cast interview with Prof. Alan Tay, Dr. Helena Varkkey led by Yew Lee Jin (University of Cologne): Indonesia is burning again, covering east Asia with smoke - a special report, in: Waking Up to Abrupt Climate Change. Podcast for Radio Ecoshock
  • 2016, Carmenta, R. "How can stakeholder perceptions inform high performance fire management interventions?" Fire Free Village Launch event. APRIL, Jakarta, Indonesia
  • 2015, Carmenta, R. "Stakeholder perceptions of fire and haze". Multi-stakeholder workshop on fire prevention, Pekanbaru, Riau, Sumatra
  • 2015, Co-Coordinator: Expert Meeting and High-Level Policy Dialogue. Finding and Mainstreaming Long-term Solutions to Fire and Haze in Indonesia. CIFOR facilitated event held at IPB International Convention Center, Bogor, and Manggala Wanabakti, Jakarta, Indonesia
  • 2014, Carmenta, R. "Shifting Cultivation and Fire Policy: Insights from the Brazilian Amazon". CIFOR TV.


Student supervision

  • 2018 - ongoing: Carbon and biodiversity responses to climate change mitigation initiatives. Alejandro Guizar Coutiño, Ph.D candidate (Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge)
  • 2016 - 2018: The Dayak at the crossroads: Traditional agricultural practices and the challenge of change in West Borneo, Indonesia. Willy Avriely Daeli, Msc (School of Forest Resources and Conservation - University of Florida)
  • 2016 - 2018: Stakeholder Perceptions of local institutions for fire management (MPAs): an assessment using SWOT-AHP in Indonesia peatland frontiers. Metia Lembasi, Msc (School of Forest Resources and Conservation - University of Florida)

External activities

  • Member, Regent House, University of Cambridge
  • Vice Chair, Peatlands and Society Commission, International Peatlands Society.
  • Governing Body Fellow, Wolfson College
  • Senior treasurer, The Cambridge Indonesia Association
  • Member, Cambridge Conservation Forum