Food in a changing climate
When Elisabeth Vogel decided to research the impact of extreme climate events on food production, she didn’t stay at her computer at the University of Melbourne. She set out for Kenya to see for herself how affected communities cope.
Vogel, a PhD student, looks at how events like droughts and floods affect crop yields worldwide. She’s researching how to predict extreme climate events and how vulnerable communities can best prepare.
That took her from Germany to study at The Australian-German College of Climate & Energy Transitions, a new graduate college at the University of Melbourne. In 2014, the first year of her PhD, she headed to Nairobi for a research exchange at the United Nations Environment Programme. Vogel is working on early warning systems for climate-related events in Kenya. She says the work is valuable because it’s “real-world” and relevant.
“My time in Kenya allows me to learn more about how to bridge the gap between science and policy making, and highlights to me the importance of putting affected communities in the centre of research,” she says from Nairobi.
“Climate extreme events are predicted to become more frequent and severe in many regions of the world. I hope that through gaining a better understanding of the impacts of climate extreme events on food production systems, my research helps to better prepare for climate disasters.”
She’s also had time to visit the Kenyan national parks of Maasai Mara and Tsavo East, and visit Maasai villages.
Vogel is one of 14 students at the Australian-German College. They share an open-plan office looking out over bustling Swanston Street. The students are from all over the world – Argentina, the USA, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Australia. Some have trained as engineers or lawyers, others have worked in forest policy. Two spent the summer of 2014-15 in Antarctica.
“We all share a research interest in how to mitigate climate change and its impacts, but are looking at a range of different aspects, from renewable energies and geo-engineering to equity principles, soil carbon sequestration and rising sea levels,” Vogel says of the student group.
“My time in Kenya allows me to learn more about how to bridge the gap between science and policy making, and highlights to me the importance of putting affected communities in the centre of research,”
A group of German universities are partners in the College. Students spend 4 to 6 months in Germany as part of their PhD and 20 academics in Germany are joint supervisors to the students. The Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute was a founding partner in the College and helps fund students’ travel.
One of Vogel’s supervisors is Malte Meinshausen, the director of the College, who sits with the students in their office. Associate Professor Meinshausen has a background in climate science and policy, and is a scientific advisor to Germany’s Environmental Ministry on international climate change negotiations under the UN’s climate body (the UNFCCC). Meinshausen attends the UNFCCC’s annual summits. He’s also researching Australia’s climate targets.
Watch the College’s supervisors explain the project
Image courtesy of Peter Casamento