Academic leads and research themes

Commonwealth Futures Climate Research Cohort 2023/24

Digital pixelated forest
Dr Kim Bouwer Headshot

Dr Kim Bouwer

Academic theme lead for climate law at national level

Dr Bouwer is one of few recognised authorities in national climate change law, mostly working on climate litigation. She is currently developing her thinking about the interactions between national climate law and private rights in the courts, under contract with Cambridge University Press. Her ongoing research about these interactions, as well as her research leadership in the integration of climate change considerations in African legal systems and their interaction with UK domestic law, demonstrates her understanding of the importance of climate governance at the national level.

Head shot of Dr Feng Mao

Dr Feng Mao

Academic theme lead for water security in a changing world

University of Warwick

Dr Feng Mao is an Associate Professor and Theme Lead, of Complex Ecosystems and Climate Change, at the University of Warwick's Institute for Global Sustainable Development. His research interests lie at the intersection of water, ecosystems, society, and technologies, and focus on topics including water security and its inequality in the Global South, socio-hydrological resilience under climate change, and digital technologies for sustainability, such as serious games, visualisation, crowdsourcing, and low-cost sensor networks.

Headshot of Dr Thomas Tanner

Professor Thomas Tanner

Academic theme lead for urban adaptation and resilience

SOAS, London

Professor Tanner is a multi-disciplinary development geographer, specialising in societal aspects of adaptive responses to the climate crisis and the action research modality of linking research to real world change and change agents. His work has included grassroots partnerships with children and young people, as well as policy-engaged research on the politics and economics of adaptation and resilience. Professor Tanner has collaboratively developed and delivered international research in over twenty territories, including Latin America, Africa, and Asia. His extensive publications range from policy briefs and podcasts to textbooks and journal articles.

Professor Jonathan Ensor Headshot

Professor Jonathan Ensor

Academic theme lead for digital governance and marginalised communities

Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York

Professor Ensor is a social scientist with research interests in processes that can lead to increasingly equitable human development. Frequently this translates into work alongside marginalised communities focusing on disaster risk reduction and environmental change, the governance and politics of technology and infrastructure, and how processes of contestation and learning can account for power and social justice in ‘resilient’ development. His most recent work has centred on how political capability, knowledge infrastructures and recognition justice can inform how we understand and respond to persistent marginalisation. He has a background in human rights development practice that informs his work.

Headshot of Dr Andrew Russell

Dr Andrew Russell

Academic theme lead for adapting to flooding and coastal change

Queen Mary University, London

Dr Russell's research interests cover climate change impact, adaptation and policy. He has a particular interest in flood risk management and coastal erosion risks. He is a British Academy Innovation Fellow and is leading a project on flood risk management policy and target setting in the UK. Dr Russell was previously a senior lecturer at Brunel University, London and worked in two UK government departments and at the UK’s statutory climate change advice body. He is a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society (FRMetS) and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA).

Research themes

The 2023/24 Commonwealth Futures Climate Research Cohort will focus on five key themes, each supported by an academic theme lead:

1. Water security in a changing world 

Nearly 80% of the global population is exposed to high levels of water security challenges, with climate change intensifying the water cycle, altering rainfall patterns, and consequently bringing more frequent and amplified hazards to human societies in many regions. This theme will therefore bring together researchers interested in ‘water security’, referring to sustainable access to sufficient quantity and satisfactory quality of water for livelihood and human wellbeing, for ecosystems, and for protecting against water-related disasters (UN-Water). Sub-themes include (1) Inequality of water security; (2) Water for ecosystems; (3) Water-related hazards. 

2. Climate law at national level 

Climate governance at national level is key to the delivery of a state’s nationally determined contributions to climate change adaptation and mitigation. While target-setting and accountability process happen through multilateral structures, international commitments will be actualised through individual states’ governance architecture. This requires a legal response, and most countries have now enacted some kind of climate legislation. However, these legal commitments need to be upheld, monitored and understood through legal and political institutions. This theme will focus on bringing together researchers interested in climate law at the national level, supporting country-specific investigations of how domestic climate governance – through law and institutional management – can support the achievement of climate mitigation and adaptation goals.

3. Urban adaptation and resilience

Urban resilience responses are emerging around the world that build the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of chronic stresses and acute shocks. This theme will bring together interdisciplinary researchers interested in urban resilience responses and their contribution to climate justice through action research approaches that study change processes. Sub-themes include: Social justice; policy and behavioural change; incentives for climate action.

4. Adapting to flooding and coastal change 

Sea-level rise and intensifying coastal storms as a result of climate change are understood to be exacerbating issues such as flooding and coastal erosion (EC). This research theme will bring together researchers interested in adapting to flooding and/or coastal change and will take a systems thinking approach to the essential stages of successful adaptation strategies, utilising interdisciplinarity to investigate the four sub-themes of the science-policy-implementation-evaluation nexus: (1) Climate change risk assessment; (2) The science to policy and planning process; (3) Implementing adaptation interventions; (4) Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of climate change adaptation actions. 

5. Digital governance and marginalised communities 

Digital governance is seen to have the potential to catalyse collaboration and improve equity within decision-making processes (Meijer et al. 2020). Yet digital governance is also a challenge for equity, potentially exacerbating established challenges of power, control and representativeness, while inviting new questions around the biases that can be built into digital infrastructure. Digital governance therefore is a challenge as well as an opportunity for climate change adaptation. As such, this theme will bring together researchers who are interested in investigating equity within climate change adaptation governance and decision-making processes, with a particular focus on how emerging digital infrastructure interacts with marginalised communities. Sub-themes include knowledge-power relations, recognition justice, marginalisation and political capability.