A human environment geographer who is a prominent thinker in the field of environmental justice has been named as the 2019 Piers Sellers Prize winner.
Petra Tschakert, whose work focuses on understanding how climate change is experienced and responded to among marginalized communities in the global south, will receive the prize for a world leading contribution to solution focused climate research in Leeds on 24 June.
The prize, awarded annually by the Priestley International Centre for Climate, will be presented as part of a “double bill” of events to mark the Centre’s new home in the Priestley Building at the University of Leeds.
Professor Tschakert, from the University of Western Australia, conducts research at the intersection of political ecology, climate change adaptation, environmental justice, and livelihood security. Her work is rooted in participatory approaches and she has pioneered a number of methods in her work including community mapping, diagramming, environmental theatre, and participatory video.
More recently she has pioneered thinking around the science of loss, promoting the importance of cultural values in understanding loss from climate impacts. (See Petra talking about her research in this video.)
Professor Tschakert was a coordinating lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, published in October 2018, and a coordinating lead author on the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (for Working Group II, on Livelihoods and Poverty), published in 2014. She was a lead author on the summary for policy makers for both assessments.
She will be travelling to Leeds following other prior engagements in the UK, including attending the World Forum on Climate Justice in Glasgow (19-21 June).
The award ceremony will also see a current University of Leeds postgraduate researcher being presented with the Piers Sellers prize for exceptional PhD research. This year the recipient is Tom Slater, a final year PhD student working in the NERC-funded Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling in the School of Earth and Environment.
Tom’s work involves using satellites to measure the height of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and how they change over time, as well as their respective contributions to global sea level rise. He was nominated for the award by his supervisor, Professor Andy Shepherd, who commended him on developing new methods for processing satellite altimeter observations of the polar ice sheets.
“Tom’s PhD has led to significant methodological advances, extending the value of satellite altimeter data for polar science.
“In addition to his ground-breaking technical work, Tom has also applied his knowledge to address important scientific problems. He has published 3 first author articles during the first two years of his PhD, including one in Nature Climate Change, and he has also co-authored two others including one in Nature and one in Nature Geosciences. He also has two further first author articles and one co-author article in preparation. This is an outstanding body of technical and applied work.”
Professor Shepherd also praised his student for his work tracking Antarctic ice losses: “Tom showed they were tracking the upper range of sea level projections [from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment]… If Antarctic ice losses continue to follow this trend, the ice sheet will be responsible for an additional 10 cm of sea level rise by 2100. This is a major revision and has significant implications for coastal communities and climate policy.”
Priestley Building formal opening
This is the fourth year that the Priestley Centre has awarded climate research prizes in the name of University of Leeds alumnus and NASA climate scientist, Piers Sellers. Previous winners of the external prize are Dr Joeri Rogelj (2016), Professor Felix Creutzig (2017) and Professor Mark New (2018). The PhD prize has been awarded to Kate Scott (2016), Ross Gillard (2017) and Kate Palmer and Jesus Vergara Temprado (2018).
The prize-giving, which includes a 30-minute lecture by Prof Tschakert and a short talk by Tom Slater, will be held at the Speakman Lecture Theatre in the Clothworkers Central Building on Monday 24 June from 14.00-15.15. The event is part of a “double bill” that includes the formal opening of the Priestley Building by the Chancellor of the University of Leeds, Professor Dame Jane Francis, with Vice Chancellor Sir Alan Langlands at a drinks reception in the Priestley International Centre for Climate (Priestley Building, Level 10, 16.00-17.15).
The events mark the start of a week of climate-themed events by the Priestley Centre, to include an additional informal session with Petra Tschakert, a talk on Yorkshire-born polymath Joseph Priestley, after whom the Centre is named, and a presentation on climate change and comedy.