Research Projects


Climate change and sustainable development

Through my work with the Earth Commission and IPCC I have become interested in the synergies and tradeoffs between responses to climate change and goals for sustainable development.  I have several writing projects around this topic.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Special Report on 1.5C, Gender Task Force and AR6

I was a lead author for Chapter Five of this report which was requested by the UNFCCC.  Although it has now been published I am still giving talks and the report is framing my research agenda moving forward.  I was also the rapporteur for the IPCC Gender Task Force which is working to make recommendations on gender balance and voice in the IPCC. I am a review editor for the IPCC Sixth Assessment WG2, Chapter 18.

Climate Adaptation

With the University of Arizona Center for Climate Adaptation and through the work of my graduate students I am working on climate adaptation, especially in Latin America, the governance of adaptation, discourses of adaptation, and how to assess the effectiveness of climate adaptation.

Past Projects

IRAP: Integrating Climate Information and Decision Processes for Regional Climate Resilience PI James Buizer University of Arizona

The NOAA International Research Applications Program (IRAP) is a collaboration involving climate, sectoral, and social scientists at the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University and regional and national partners in the Caribbean, Asia, and West Africa, which seeks to build resilience to impacts from climate variability and change, using strategies in the sectors of water resources, hazard risk management and coastal planning and management.

The three focus regions are extremely vulnerable to climate variability, particularly extreme events and stresses on food production, water resources, and coastal hazards. Their continued economic development is threatened by today’s climate, and those threats are likely to worsen with future climate change. The effective provision of climate services may help sustain hard-won development gains and engender climate-­‐resilient societies. The aim is to develop hydroclimate information at multiple timescales that can meet identified user needs.  

I have been involved in the Caribbean case study

Collaborative Research: EaSM2–Quantifying and Conveying the Risk of Prolonged Drought in Coming Decades: PIs Diana Liverman University of Arizona, Jonathan Overpeck and Julia Cole, University of Michigan

Drought is among the most ruinous of natural disasters and is expected to become increasingly prevalent in a warming world. In the future, natural hydroclimatic variability will be superimposed on continued human-driven changes to regional climate, with both long-term warming and regional drying likely to exacerbate droughts of the future. Among the greatest challenges of decadal prediction and climate change projection are the quantification of prolonged drought risk in vulnerable regions and the integration of knowledge about this risk into the decision-making processes of the many resource managers and other stakeholders who deal with drought.

This project focuses on a scale of drought variability – decadal to multidecadal – that is not well constrained by observations, nor well represented in models. The activity relies on the integrated use of satellite, instrumental, and paleoclimatic observations, along with climate models and analysis, to understand both the natural and human influences on drought, potential model biases, and the roles of land cover change (vegetation and dust), ocean temperatures, and other factors behind drought. The goal is to develop improved estimates of drought risk, as well as the improved partnerships between scientists and stakeholders that are required to reduce the vulnerability of society to drought. Key vulnerable regions will be identified, where natural variability and anthropogenic change combine to amplify the risk of prolonged, severe drought with large consequences: southwestern North America (US and Mexico), Australia, the Amazon, and West Africa/Sahel.

The strategy takes advantage of several unique observational, model and stakeholder resources: (1) an unprecedented number of simulations of the past millennium from a state-of-the-art Earth System Model (CESM; in addition to the CMIP5 archive); (2) an expanding set of published and emerging paleoclimate datasets from multiple proxies that reveal long observational histories of decadal-multidecadal hydroclimate variability; (3) a longstanding network of stakeholders and collaborators in the southwestern US, Mexico, and beyond with whom we can develop best practices in applying drought risk estimates to real-world problems across a broad social context; and (4) a long history of working on drought variability and stakeholder-driven.

I am responsible for work on perceptions of drought and use of megadrought information for stakeholders.

Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice: Climate Justice network. PI Diana Liverman

This project sets out to build climate justice collaborations and expertise at the University of Arizona and beyond.  Activities include participating on panels and events at COP21, organizing events on UA and the SDGs, surveying women who are IPCC authors to identify barriers to their participation and voice.

CONACYT-UA  NAFTA and the environment: A retrospective PI Diana Liverman with Fiona Gladstone (UA) and Roberto Sanchez (COLEF)

This project examines the environmental impacts and perceptions of NAFTA more than 20 years after it came into force by looking at environmental trends and interviewing experts and activists about their evaluation.


Climate, Poverty and Development

I’ve been interested in climate vulnerability and impacts on the poor for most of my professional career, working with a series of projects, including many graduate student dissertations in both North and South America.   I have also become interested in the impacts of climate policies – both emission reductions and adaptation – on different groups in society. Emerging from the gaps we found in writing the IPCC 1.5C report we are undertaking a metanalysis of the literature on climate impacts and the SDGs.

Environmental Governance and Political Ecology

While the work on poverty and climate engages with questions of governance I have some broader interests in earth system governance and environmental governance in Mexico and the US-Mexico border region.  I have been affiliated with the ICSU Earth System Governance project since they wrote their science plan and have also worked with  international groups that have been thinking about Planetary Boundaries and about governance in the Anthropocene.  You can see some of our work under my publications.  I recently wrote a review article on political ecology and climate governance – I tend to work both with the earth scientists (playing a general role as social scientist) and from more critical perspectives.  A decade ago I did a fair bit of theoretical and empirical work on the environmental impacts of neoliberalism in Latin America and NAFTA on the border.  I am working on a retrospective of NAFTA which asks whether environmental concerns expressed in the 1990s have come to pass.

Climate Assessment and Climate Services

As a former contributor to IPCC, advisor to NOAA and UKCIP, panel chair for the America’s Climate Choices Informing report and member of the US National Climate Assessment Advisory Committee I have a major research interest in the assessment and communication of climate science to stakeholders and the public.  The funded collaborative projects I have with Jonathan and Julie Cole on  drought and abrupt climate change and with Jim on climate forecasting  both seek to use the full range of social science methods and methodology to evaluate how to best communicate  climate to decision makers.  I have also been working on how to improve collaboration and communication between natural and social scientist on global change.   I have also been studying and writing about the need to study climate impacts on the broader economy including manufacturing and services  and the importance of understanding climate impacts in global contexts.   For example most regions now depend on global supply chain and on prices determined in a globalized economy.

Climate Adaptation

My work on climate adaptation includes several years as chair of the global environmental change and food systems (GECAFS) project –  which was one of the  seeds for the CGIAR  climate change  agriculture and food  security project.   I’ve actually been working on climate and agriculture  for much longer –  beginning with the crop modeling work I did as a graduate student and my doctorate on climate change and  the world food system.    I am also interested in the international governance of adaptation.   I am one of the founders  of the University of Arizona Center for climate adaptation science and solutions (CCASS) which brings together all of us working on climate adaptation under the leadership of Kathy Jacobs.

Finding my public voice

In 2014 I was fortunate to be selected as a Tucson fellow for the national op-ed public voices project which seeks to increase the number of women who  contribute to the media.   Fellows are mentored  and edited to produce and submit short pieces  for the media.   So far I have written pieces on climate change in Southwest, climate and the economy, climate and conflict, optimistic environmental teaching, and connections between feelings for dogs and wolves.