Skip to content

 School of Geography and the Environment

7 June 2010

Professor Diana Liverman awarded RGS Founder's Medal.

Prof. Diana Liverman

The Royal Geographical Society have awarded their 2010 Founder's Medal to Diana Liverman, the Environmental Change Institute's previous Director and current Visiting Professor at the School of Geography and Environment and Fellow of Linacre College. The Royal Geographical Society (RGS) made the award, approved by Her Majesty the Queen, in recognition of Professor Liverman's contributions in "encouraging, developing and promoting understanding of the human dimensions of climate change". The Founders Medal was presented by Oxford alumnus Michael Palin, President of the RGS, on the 7th of June.

The Founders Medal was initiated through a gift by King William IV in 1831. Previous holders include Sir David Attenborough, Sir Edmund Hillary, Rev David Livingstone and Henry Morton-Stanley. Professor Liverman is one of only a handful of women to be awarded the medal. The Environmental Change Institute (ECI) has previously been linked to the Founder's Medal when it was awarded to Professor Andrew Goudie, coincidentally in 1991, the year in which he created the ECI. Students on the ECI's international Masters in Environmental Change and Management therefore have the rare distinction of being taught by two Founder's Medallists.

The RGS citation for Professor Liverman's award referred to her contributions to promoting the understanding of the human dimensions of climate change. These include:

  • Promoting the idea that climate impacts depend as much on vulnerability as the physical climate change, and especially showing how changing socioeconomic and political conditions have shifted the patterns of climate vulnerability in, for example, Latin America;
  • Providing some of the earliest academic analyses of how adaptation and mitigation (especially carbon offsets) link north and south and pose challenges to sustainable development; and
  • Promoting the role of social sciences in understanding environmental change as Chair of the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change; as Chair of the international Global Environmental Change and Food Systems (GECAFS) Scientific Advisory Committee; and as a member of Advisory Committees for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the InterAmerican Institute for Global Environmental Change.

The NAS Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change produced several important reports under Professor Liverman's leadership that brought social science perspectives to the missions of important US agencies such as NASA (People and Pixels) and NOAA (Making Climate Forecasts Matter). This work has culminated in Professor Liverman's current responsibility as Chair of the National Academies' America's Climate Choices Panel on Informing Effective Decisions, with a report coming out later this year, 2010.

At a more personal level Professor Liverman has sought to join other cheerleaders in promoting geography as a discipline which is the natural place to bring together the physical and social sciences and to lead interdisciplinary work on climate change. She has helped to expand and raise the profile of a series of interdisciplinary environmental programs at universities including Oxford, Penn State, and Arizona, while also supervising more than 25 doctoral students who have gone on to become experts in human dimensions within academia, government and international organizations. Professor Liverman has always been keen to explore new innovative collaborations, most obviously shown in her work with artists and other cultural professionals on public engagement and communication with climate and environmental change.

Professor David Banister, ECI's Acting Director, said "This award recognises the enormous contribution that Diana Liverman has made to raising the quality of social science research, personally and through encouraging her colleagues at ECI, in our understanding of climate change and the need to engage with all decision makers to facilitate effective action."

Profesor Liverman herself said "I was surprised and incredibly touched by this award and its role in the history of geographical thought and exploration. As a child I was fascinated by stories of exploration and loved geography, including those I heard at the RGS, because it allowed me to study other places and people. When I started research into the human dimensions of global change, hardly anyone was interested in the topic. Now climate change is one of the great challenges of our time and threatens to transform the landscapes so carefully described by earlier explorers, and to destroy the livelihoods of millions of people in the developing world."

Professor Liverman is currently co-director of the Institute of Environment at the University of Arizona. She will be returning to Oxford each year to continue teaching and supervising students. For more information about Professor Liverman's research, links to her Arizona institute, and other work please see her webpage.