Survival into the Future


Twenty First Annual Darwin College Lecture Series 2006


Lecture 8   :   10 March

Diana Liverman

Oxford University



Climate change may present one of the greatest challenges for the survival of people and ecosystems in and beyond this century. In the last decade the science has moved from general predictions of a future world gradually warmed by continued burning of fossil fuels to evidence that the climate is already changing and that changes may be rapid and irreversible. Research on the impacts of climate change has expanded from analysis of temperature changes on agriculture and water resources to assessments that include human health and ecosystems, and that focus on how vulnerability and resilience are the key determinants of damages. The entry into force of the Kyoto protocol in 2005 formalised a set of international responses to climate change focused on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through a combination of binding commitments on industrialised nations, a carbon credit trading system, and development mechanisms that provide credit for investing in greenhouse gas reductions in the developing world. Corporations, local governments, and individuals are also seeking to reduce emissions through programmes that include energy conservation, renewables, and carbon offsets. Modest efforts are being made to adapt to climate change in vulnerable regions such as small islands and dry lands. Current responses are clearly inadequate to the magnitude of the threats posed by climate change, especially if predictions of high climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases are correct. The first stage of the Kyoto process is likely to produce an insignificant reduction of less than 2% in greenhouse gas emissions, absent the participation of the US and developing countries and given that several other nations are unable to meet their commitments. The commodification of the atmosphere through Kyoto and emissions trading raises challenging questions about markets as the solution to environmental problems including those of equity, transaction fees, and meeting the real cost of damages. Science as yet only provides a partial understanding of the geographies of climate change and the new carbon economy with inadequate analysis of uncertainties, regional impacts, and of likely decisions by many state, private and individual actors. This lecture will argue that avoiding dangerous climate change requires a much greater effort that includes 60% or more reductions in emissions, policies that include regulatory as well as market mechanisms and controversial technological decisions, and major commitment to planning and funding adaptation and to meeting the costs of damages through insurance or litigation.


Diana Liverman is Professor of Environmental Science and the Director of the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) at Oxford University. A geographer, born in West Africa and educated in London, Toronto and Los Angeles, she spent much of her career in North America where her professional service included chairing the US National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change, and sitting on advisory committees for NOAA, NASA and the Inter American Institute for Global Change. Her research has focused on the human dimensions of global change, with a focus on climate impacts, vulnerability and adaptation, and on the causes and consequences of climate change in Latin America. At Oxford she has become involved in various climate research projects including the Tyndall Centre, QUEST, and is the incoming chair of the Science Advisory Committee for the international Global Environmental Change and Food Security (GECAFS) programme. The ECI hosts a node of the UK Energy Research Centre and the UK Climate Impacts Programme (

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