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UA prof named to int'l Earth Commission studying climate, biodiversity

Diana Liverman is an expert on climate vulnerability & sustainable development

A University of Arizona professor and top climate researcher, Diana Liverman, has been named one of 19 members of the Earth Commission, a new global group drafting potential responses to climate change and biodiversity challenges.

"My current research asks: How do we reduce the risk of climate change while also reaching the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals? For example, how do we raise people out of poverty in a way that doesn't lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions or other negative resource impacts," said Liverman, who is a UA regents' professor and director of the School of Geography and Development.

"We're looking for the triple win, which will lift people out of poverty in a climate-friendly and equitable way, which may involve those with greater environmental impacts – such as consumers in the U.S. – reducing their climate impacts," she said in a news release from the university.

Liverman has studied the impact of drought on society, with a focus on how climate change affects agriculture and food systems, including fieldwork in Mexico on climate and the effects of NAFTA.

The Arizona professor was one of the lead authors of a prominent 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on limiting global temperature increases. That report was cited as one of the reasons to enact the Green New Deal in that proposed legislation.

Liverman is one of 19 top international experts selected for the commission, which is tasked with identifying global environmental risks and developing scientific targets that will guide responses to climate change, biodiversity and other global environmental challenges.

"I study the fate of the disadvantaged and disempowered in a changing climate – the poor, women, children, and other species - and more generally the political ecology of global environmental change," her UA biography reads.

Liverman's selection was announced Thursday morning by the international research organization Future Earth.

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The 19 commissioners include leading scientists in both natural and social sciences from 13 countries, including Argentina, Australia, China, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The former co-director of the Institute of the Environment at the UA, Liverman has served on several international science committees, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the scientific advisory committees for several programs of the International Council for Science including the planning committee for Future Earth. She became director of the UA Geography and Development School in July. Born a British national, she studied at UCLA, among other universities, and has also worked at Oxford University, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Penn State.

Liverman has collaborated with several other Earth Commission members, including as co-author of an influential paper on "Planetary Boundaries" in 2009 and in the international Earth System Governance project.

The Earth Commission is set to immediately being work — and complete by 2021 — a "high-level synthesis of scientific knowledge on the biophysical processes that regulate Earth's stability and will identify targets to ensure this stability. The commission will also explore social transformations required for sustainable development to reach these targets in a way that could be tailored to cities and companies."

"I don't think we can solve these problems unless we work not only with government and citizens but also with the private sector," Liverman said.

From the UA:

The Earth Commission will work with the Science Based Targets Network, comprised of leading non-governmental organizations, cities and businesses who commit to reduce their impact on and restore our oceans, freshwater, land and biodiversity. The aim is to make this standard practice in leading companies and cities by 2025.

"This year's fires in the Amazon, the rapidly warming Arctic, dying coral reefs and unprecedented heat waves and floods across the world are the clearest signals yet that human activities are pushing the planet further and further from the stable state we have enjoyed for 10,000 years," said Earth Commission co-chairman Johan Rockström, who is also co-chairman of Future Earth.

The Earth Commission and the Science Based Targets Network are part of the Global Commons Alliance, a network of organizations that aims to transform economic systems to ensure Earth remains habitable. The alliance, launched in June, includes Earth HQ, a media portal that will share how earth systems are performing and track progress toward environmental solutions.

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UA Prof. Diana Liverman

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Earth Commission

The members of the new climate change group, announced Thursday:


  • Johan Rockström, Professor in Earth System Science and Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Co-Chair of Future Earth's Advisory Committee
  • Joyeeta Gupta, Professor of Environment and Development in the Global South, University of Amsterdam and IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft
  • Dahe Qin, Director of the Academic Committee of Chinese Academy of Sciences


  • Xuemei Bai, Expert in urbanisation and sustainability, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Australia; co-chair Future Earth's Urban Knowledge Action Network
  • Govindasamy Bala, Expert in climate and the carbon cycle, Indian Institute of Science, India
  • Stuart Bunn, expert in freshwater ecology and management, Professor and Director, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Australia
  • Fabrice DeClerck, Expert in food systems and biodiversity, sustainable production and healthy consumption, France; Science Director EAT, Senior Scientist Alliance of Biodiversity, CIAT.
  • Sandra Diaz, Expert in biodiversity and plant ecology and ecosystems ecology. Professor at Córdoba National University and Investigador Superior at the Argentine National Research Council (CONICET), Argentina, and co-chair of the 2019 IPBES Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
  • Kristie Ebi, Expert in health risks and climate change, University of Washington, USA; co-chair Future Earth's Health Knowledge Action Network
  • Peng Gong, Expert in Global environment monitoring, modeling and planetary health, Tsinghua University, China, member Future Earth Advisory Committee
  • Christopher Gordon, Expert in coastal wetland andintegrated river basin management, CDKN, CEL Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies, University of Ghana
  • Benjamin Halpern, Expert in marine conservation, National Center for Ecological Analysis & Synthesis, UC Santa Barbara, USA
  • Norichika Kanie, Expert in sustainable development goals, Earth system governance, Keio University, Japan
  • Tim Lenton, Expert in tipping points, climate modeling, Global Systems Institute, University of Exeter, UK; Future Earth's Analysis, Integration and Modeling of the Earth System Project
  • Diana Liverman, Expert in climate vulnerability and adaptation, University of Arizona, USA
  • David Obura, Expert in coral reef ecology and sustainability, CORDIO East Africa, Kenya
  • Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Expert in atmospheric sciences, air pollution, University of California, USA
  • Peter Verburg, Expert in land change, social-ecological dynamics,Vrije Universiteit, Netherlands, former Chair of Future Earth's Global Land Programme
  • Ricarda Winkelmann, Expert in ice sheet dynamics, tipping points, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany