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Vanessa Burns

Geographer & Social Researcher

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Her recent research has concentrated on traditional human-environment relations, Indigenous knowledge, and alternative ways of governing adaptation to environmental change. Vanessa has conducted extensive periods of fieldwork in Australia, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and the UK. Her research has been published by The United Nations (International Labour Organization), The European Commission, and a number of leading academic journals. 


A once Sydneysider, Vanessa left Australia some years ago to complete a PhD at Oxford. She has lectured in geography at both Oxford and Stanford universities. Vanessa is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and speaks regularly about environmental change at events and conferences. Through her research, Vanessa has been an advocate for Indigenous peoples, and particularly Indigenous women, raising awareness of the exacerbation of inequities experienced by these groups in a climate changed world. In addition to research in the Pacific region, she has worked on a number of interdisciplinary research projects across regions in Europe and Africa. These have contributed to policy-making in the areas of climate change adaptation, food and nutrition security, water governance, and sustainable agriculture. When not travelling, Vanessa lives with her husband and 5 year old son, in a small rural village near Cambridge. 

Living Climate Change: Women’s lives Women’s bodies 


In this session I present research on traditional environmental management, and reflect on the role of female elders as stewards of local adaptation to environmental change.  Based on fieldwork in the Coral Triangle region, during which I worked with Indigenous co-researchers, I share experiences of extreme weather, and consider the complexity of climate-led displacement, in communities with histories of displacement from their traditional lands. I ask how communities are adapting to the increasing severity of droughts and floods. In particular, I ask how women’s knowledge and custodial practices are contributing to successful adaptation strategies. 

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