Climate adaptation scientist wins Young Tall Poppy Award

Dr Johanna Nalau has been named the winner of a prestigious Young Tall Poppy Science Award.

Griffith University climate change adaptation scientist Dr Johanna Nalau has been recognised at the prestigious 2020 Young Tall Poppy Science Awards.

Dr Nalau’s research looks at how people make decisions in order to adapt to impacts of climate change.

Dr Johanna Nalau receiving her Young Tall Poppy Science Award.

“My current project focuses on decision making mindsets,” Dr Nalau, an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow, said.

“What are the fundamental assumptions we have made about adaptation, how we should and how we can adapt to climate change, and trying to understand what those core adaptation heuristics are that will help us make better decisions.”

The annual Australian Institute of Policy and Science awards recognise the achievements of Australia’s outstanding young scientific researchers and communicators.

“The award is recognition that my research is important but also that there is a wide acknowledgement that research into climate change adaptation deserves an award,” Dr Nalau said.

“My research is important because climate change impacts are already here, and they will increase in magnitude.

“There is so much we still don’t understand.”

Dr Johanna Nalau with Binna Burra Director Steve Noakes.

“There are so many angles to climate change, but in climate adaptation in particular, because it’s going to be needed in every sector and every community.

“My passion is to help communities and governments make better decisions on this and look at a long-term trajectory, thinking about how we can enable our communities to be more resilient in the future.”

The social scientist hopes her research can provide decision makers across all sectors – government, not-for-profit, private and communities – with a set of robust principals for how decisions are made on climate change.

“For instance, if we have more bushfires, we have more heatwaves and we have more flooding, what decisions can we make today that make us more resilient in the future?” Dr Nalau said.

“How can we make better decisions and better policies; how can we prepare better?”

An example of this planning is Dr Nalau’s work with local tourism operator Binna Burra Lodge, which was ravaged by bushfires in 2019 but will reopen in September.

“In Binna Burra they had a massive and unprecedented bushfire, so they’re really starting to think about how they can make their operations and the area more resilient and more adaptive to climate change,” she said.

“Whether that’s thinking about planting plants that are drought resistant and fire tolerant, or how they design buildings, they are thinking about how they make sure there is a resilient and adaptive future for that particular place.”

The Young Tall Poppy Science Awards have been previously awarded to an exclusive group of Griffith community members, including Dr Michelle Langley, Dr Michael Simmonds, Dr Ali Zaid, Dr Lara Herrero, and Associate Professor Erik Streed.