Africa climate risk expert wins Piers Sellers Prize for world leading contribution to climate research

14 Mar 2018 - 12:30

Professor Mark New, Director of African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) 

The Piers Sellers Prize is one of two awarded annually in the former astronaut and climate scientist's name, by the Priestley International Centre for Climate.  This year, the award reflects a lifelong contribution, based on interdisciplinary research outputs and evidence of resulting impacts on climate solutions.  

Professor Mark New will receive the Piers Sellers Prize at a special event at the University of Leeds, where he will deliver a lecture entitled, "Anatomy of a water crisis:  climate, demographics, communication behaviour and politics in Cape Town". The topical lecture - which falls in the same week as World Water Day (Thursday 22 March) - will analyse the factors that have combined to set Cape Town on a countdown to "Day Zero", when the city's taps will run dry, following a one-in-384 year drought.  

Mark New, who is the Pro-VC for Climate Change at the University of Cape Town and AXA Research Fund Chair in African Climate Risk, is a global leader in the interdisciplinary integration of climate and development research. He is at the forefront of cutting-edge research on the twin issues of low carbon and climate resilient development from a strongly African perspective. The ACDI that he directs reflects the largest concentration of expertise in climate and development in Africa.

A highly cited author – he has published widely and in leading journals – Mark New has also been a contributing and reviewing author for the IPCC (working groups I and II). He is a leader in the development of global and regional climate datasets that have been used to underpin climate impacts assessments and integrated modelling, the detections of climate extremes and issues around uncertainty and accuracy of climate data.

More recently, Mark New’s research on impacts and adaptation has addressed broader adaptation policy issues around high-end climate change and dangerous climate impacts, and approaches to adaptation decision making under uncertainty. As a result, his expertise has garnered requests for policy-facing consultancy and advisory roles from the World Bank, the Asian and African Development Banks, Department for International Development (DFID, UK), US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the WWF.

Mark New was nominated for the prize by Prof Lea Berrang Ford, Priestley Chair in Climate and Health, who cited two solutions oriented research projects as examples of his outputs. One, GreenSkills, works to facilitate a more proactive approach to green planning in South Africa using a systems-based perspective for capacity building. It has also developed training materials and programmes, including a toolkit for organisational development and the greening of jobs along the value chain of an organisation or sector.

The other project, SmartAgri, provides a road map for actionable and prioritised initiatives to get the agricultural sector moving towards greater climate resilience, as well as the production of Climate Change Response Implemention Plan.

“Mark Initially trained in the physical sciences and his early contributions and expertise focused on climate modelling,” said Prof Berrang Ford. “His more recent publications reflect a transition to stronger interdisciplinary and policy-focused research, with research emphasis shifting to include adaptation, mitigation and development implications of climate scenarios and uncertainty.

“I am delighted Mark has been selected for the prize out of a very strong field of contenders for the lifelong contribution award. He takes an interdisciplinary approach, working with other stakeholders, and the title of his talk on the Cape Town water crisis reflects the complex and intertwining nature of the issues involved in his area of climate research.”

  Article written and published by Priestley International Centre of Climate, University of Leeds

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