Science and society

Debra Roberts: dealing with gaps between science, practice and policy

Key note presentation during the 2015 PECS conference

There is a growing realization that the world has changed and that it will continue to change, driven by forces such as globalization, urbanization and climate change. In this world of increasing uncertainty, scientists and practitioners alike are being drawn into the uncomfortable and politically charged space between research and policy making. This is a personal socio-ecological story of a biologist who became a local government official to try and better negotiate this space. In telling the story there is the opportunity to reflect on some of the lessons learned in the transition from blue sky to coal face.

About Debra Roberts
Dr. Debra Roberts established and heads the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department of eThekwini Municipality (Durban, South Africa). She was a lead author of Chapter 8 (Urban Areas) and a contributing author to Chapter 12 (Africa) of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report.

She is a member of the South African climate negotiating team and sits on various international advisory bodies focused on climate change issues in cities (e.g. the Rockefeller Foundation’s Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network). Dr. Roberts was vice-chair of UN-Habitat’s HS-NET Advisory Board which oversaw the production of the 2011 "Cities and Climate Change" Global Report and is a founding member of the Alliance for Sustainability and Prosperity for All.

She is a member of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Thematic Group on Sustainable Cities, working towards the establishment of an urban SDG as part of the post-2015 development regime. Dr. Roberts was also appointed as a member of the Future Earth Engagement Committee and as thematic policy expert on Africa for UNEP’s GEO6.

Related info

The Program on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS), is a Future Earth core-project (jointly sponsored by ICSU and UNESCO). PECS aims to integrate research on the stewardship of social–ecological systems, the services they generate, and the relationships among natural capital, human wellbeing, livelihoods, inequality and poverty.


Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Stockholm Resilience Centre
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Phone: +46 8 674 70 70

Organisation number: 202100-3062
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