A history of the future: Integrated Assessment Models and the evolution of climate change science and policy


A history of the future: Integrated Assessment Models and the evolution of climate change science and policy


Project Description


Dr Martin Mahony, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Dr Naomi Vaughan, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia


This project will develop the first history of Integrated Assessment Modelling (IAM), and examine how that history can inform current debates about future climate change.

 As societies urgently seek pathways to a more sustainable future, new questions are being asked about the relationship between scientific knowledge and decision-making. What kind of knowledge is required to support difficult decisions? How can policymakers deal with uncertainties in scenarios and forecasts? What gets left out of calculations of future policy options, and why might that matter?

How scientists make knowledge about the future, and how that knowledge gets used in making certain futures happen, has recently been of great interest to scholars in science and technology studies (Beck & Mahony 2017). Through this unique interdisciplinary PhD project, you can make a ground-breaking contribution in this area by conducting the first piece of historical research on IAMs – the key tools by which policy-makers make sense of the policy options they have before them for dealing with climate change (e.g. Vaughan et al. 2018). With the support of a leading STS scholar and world-renowned interdisciplinary climate scientists, you’ll investigate how these complex scientific tools have developed over time, how they differ from each other, and how they have evolved in tandem with the changing politics of climate change.

In addition, you’ll pioneer an approach to making this kind of historical research useful and impactful for the climate science community, by helping users of IAM results to understand how these models are structured, their assumptions, and how they can be best used in the making of climate futures.

The student will be based in UEA’s 3S Group (https://3sresearch.org/) and the Tyndall Centre (https://www.tyndall.ac.uk/) . The project will be conducted in partnership with Prof. Detlef van Vuuren of the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, an IAM pioneer.

Person Specification

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a first or upper second-class honours degree (or equivalent) in Geography, Environmental Sciences/Environmental Studies, Science & Technology Studies, Sociology, History or cognate disciplines.


  • 1. Beck, Silke, and Martin Mahony. 2017. “The IPCC and the Politics of Anticipation.” Nature Climate Change 7 (5): 311–13.
  • 2. Vaughan, Naomi E, Clair Gough, Sarah Mander, Emma W. Littleton, Andrew Welfle, David E.H.J. Gernaat, and Detlef P. Van Vuuren. 2018. “Evaluating the Use of Biomass Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage in Low Emission Scenarios.” Environmental Research Letters 13 (4): 044014.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.
  • Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area (see https://www.aries-dtp.ac.uk/supervisors/additional-funding/).
  • This studentship will start on 1st October 2020, and the closing date for applications is 23:59 on 15th January 2020.
  • Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor.
  • Please note that the joint NERC-ESRC ARIES-SeNSS studentship projects have different deadlines and funding arrangements. For full details please visit https://senss-dtp.ac.uk/aries-senss-joint-studentship, or contact SeNSS.dtp@uea.ac.uk.

Further Information

This studentship has been shortlisted for joint funding by the SeNSS ESRC DTP and ARIES NERC DTP. The successful candidate will receive a studentship of 3.5-4 years (depending on training needs) that will cover tuition fees, up to £5,000 to cover research costs, and, if eligible, a stipend of at least £15,009 per year. For eligibility rules, see https://senss-dtp.ac.uk/apply. Application deadline: MIDDAY ON 20 JANUARY 2020

Get in Touch

aries.dtp@uea.ac.uk / 01603 593558