Professor Rik Leemans

IAS Fellow at St Mary’s College, Durham University (January – March 2011)

Rik Leemans heads the Environmental Systems Analysis group of Wageningen University, directs the WIMEK graduate school and chairs the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP). ESSP combines the knowledge of all international Global-Change Research Programmes for managing carbon, water, food and human Health. His main research interests concern biodiversity, land-use change, biogeochemical cycles, ecosystem services, vulnerability and sustainable development.

His early studies at Uppsala University (Sweden) and the International Institute of Applied System Analyses (IIASA, Austria) emphasised modelling boreal forests. During the nineties, he led the development of the earth system model, IMAGE-2, at the Dutch Institute of Public Health and the Environment. This model is still being used in many influential future studies. Currently, he contributes to several (inter)national committees concerned with various aspects of global change, and leads multidisciplinary projects to model and assess ecosystems services and biodiversity, and local/regional vulnerability, development and sustainability. He is involved in the assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), co-chaired the Response Options Working group of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and is editor-in-chief of the new journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability.

He will use his IAS fellowship to discuss (the need for) innovative, interdisciplinary and integrative approaches to project future trends and to simultaneously assess the environmental, social and economic consequences of these trends. The challenge for a sustainable human future is to identify trade-offs and synergies between different choices and to steer away from high-impact vulnerabilities, such as undesirable and irreversible tipping points. This likely demands insights from many different disciplines, the private sector, policy makers and society. One of the major issues at stake is how to effectively communicate the emerging findings of such an endeavour.