Climate change researcher wins Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize

Victoria University of Wellington’s Professor James Renwick has won the 2018 Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize.

Professor James Renwick

Professor Renwick, a climate scientist and head of the University’s School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, was awarded the $100,000 prize from the Prime Minister at an event in Wellington.

Professor Renwick, whose research focus is on climate variability, climate change, and weather and climate prediction, has received the prestigious award for his outstanding communication about the science behind our changing climate and how it will affect the future.

In the past five years Professor Renwick has been involved in more than 100 public presentations, given more than 200 media interviews, and presented at numerous conferences. This includes leading the organising committee for the 2016 and 2018 Pacific Climate Change Conferences. He has contributed to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which informs global agreements on climate change action, and is currently a convening lead author for the next IPCC Assessment Report due in 2021.

Professor Renwick says it’s “a great honour” to win the prize.

“I feel humbled and privileged. I’m grateful for the support and research of a large network of scientists and communicators from all over the world.

“If winning this award helps to further the conversation around taking action on climate change and brings more visibility to the issue then that’s fantastic. All I really want to see is us getting on top of the problem and avoiding the worst possible futures.”

This year’s judges described Professor Renwick as communicating with warmth, humour, and positivity, while being clear about the seriousness of the issue.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford says the award is well-deserved recognition for Professor Renwick’s contribution to “the most significant global challenge facing us today”.

“Professor Renwick has become New Zealand’s most prominent spokesperson on the effects of climate change. He works tirelessly to communicate complex science and create discussion that is fundamental to our planet’s future.

“We are extremely proud of his achievements.”

Some of the $50,000 of Professor Renwick’s prize money designated for science communication activities will be used to help build collaborations between artists and scientists to address the topic of climate change.

“Science is all about numbers, facts, and graphs—but not everyone is interested in this kind of information,” says Professor Renwick. “If we want to engage with people about environmental issues, we need to connect with their hearts and minds in a different way. Artistic expression, like music, songs, and artworks, can be a great way to do that.”

Professor Renwick also plans to continue supporting the Track Zero Charitable Trust, which brings climate scientists and local artists together in communities around the country.

Professor Renwick began his career as a weather forecaster for the Meteorological Service, later transferring to NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) before joining Victoria University of Wellington in 2012. Last year he was presented with a Staff Excellence award for engagement.