Professor Neil Adger - credit BBVA Foundation

Exeter researcher awarded "frontiers of knowledge" prize for science of climate change adaptation

A University of Exeter researcher is one of three winners of this year's BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award.

Professor Neil Adger, of Exeter's Geography department, becomes a BBVA laureate alongside Professor Karen O’Brien, of the University of Oslo, and Ian Burton, Emeritus Professor at the University of Toronto.

They jointly receive the award for "incorporating the social dimension to climate change science through the study of adaptation to unavoidable impacts".

Now in its 13th year, previous Frontiers of Knowledge Awards on climate change have rewarded work in modelling, physics or economics, but this year's prize recognises the contribution of the social sciences.

Professor Adger's research focuses on key social effects of climate change such as who is affected by disasters, who migrates, and the risk of conflict.

His scientific contributions have been to show that people's vulnerability to climate change depends not only on climate as such, but also, very directly, on social and political measures.

Speaking after the award decision, he stressed that solutions to climate change that work with nature, natural spaces, and understanding of how people act together will help the world adapt to climate change.

"Cities are the crucibles for climate change adaptation; we need to make cities plan and prepare for climate change, so they become more resilient," he said.

Professor Neil Gow, Exeter's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Impact), said: "This highly prestigious award recognises Professor Adger’s transformative contribution to climate science adaption and the impacts on health and wellbeing.

"We congratulate Professor Adger, Professor O’Brien and Professor Burton on this award and are delighted their contributions have been recognised."

Professor Burton came to the issue of climate change through his research on natural disasters, and was the first to promote adaptation to address climate change effects that, in the light of forecasts, are already unavoidable.

Professor O’Brien is concerned about impacts on vulnerable populations which, her research finds, suffer a double exposure to climate change and globalisation.

She said: "In the same way that double exposure in photography refers to two images that are overlain and create a blurry image, with this concept we express how the processes of globalisation and climate change create uneven outcomes, in other words winners and losers.

"The two processes not only overlap but also create feedback that can accelerate or diminish them.”

Research by the three laureates, who have collaborated on numerous occasions, has been instrumental in designing how countries have planned for adaptation in every corner of the world, using analytical perspectives drawn from the social sciences.

Date: 14 January 2021

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