Dr Jessica  Thorn

Dr Jessica Thorn

Lecturer in Sustainable Development

Researcher profile

+44 (0)1334 46 3907


Research areas

Dr Jessica Thorn is a lecturer in sustainable development at the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews. She is also an ARISE (African Research Initiative for Scientific Excellence) fellow at the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Namibia. Her work broadly concentrates on climate change adaptation, green infrastructure, and social-ecological system transitions in peri urban, smallholder and mountain systems. Her research spans individual households to national comparative surveys to global systematic reviews, involving the assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services, participatory scenario planning, and probabilistic land use change modelling – addressing a variety of environmental challenges including mega linear infrastructure, mining, marine and coastal ecosystem-based adaptation, climate migration, and informal settlement flood and drought risk. Hailing from Namibia, she has 17 years of experience working on various ESRC, IDRC, GCRF, CR4D, NSF, NERC, NRF, DFID, CGAIR, IDRC, ESRC, UNEP, UNDP, and USAID funded projects, travelling to over 60 countries. She has secured >£1.6 million of research funding involving multi-institutional international and interdisciplinary collaborations.  

Jessica’s research has impacted the policy sphere - affiliated to the UN, World Bank, governments, NGOs, working closely with local stakeholders across sectors. She is a coordinating lead author for the Global Environmental Outlook 6 Business Brief on Future Proofing infrastructure, and a contributing author to the IPCC AR6 WGII Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Africa and Mountain chapters, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity report Agri-Food Systems Report shaping the African Union’s and SADC secretariat’s Climate Change Strategy. As an effective communicator, she engages a range of media and outreach including newspaper, animation, blog, podcast, YouTube, webiners, MOOCs, databases, policy briefs and dialogues.

She has taught on several university courses at the University of St Andrews, University of Oxford, University of York, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Sokoine University of Agriculture, University of Cape Town, University of Nairobi, and Colorado State University. For this work she has received over 33 awards, fellowships, and grants, including the League of European Research Universities leadership award, Brettschneider (Cornell), Mind the Environmental Gap (Oxford), and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Seal of Excellence (European Commission). Prior to coming to St Andrews, she completed her BSocSci(Hons) at the University of Cape Town, MSc and DPhil at Oxford, postdoctoral studies at Colorado State University and ETH Zurich (Mountain Sentinels Collaborative Network) and University of York (Development Corridors Partnership and held an African Women in Climate Change fellowship at the African Climate and Development Initiative.

Current key projects

  • Future Landscape Optimization for peri Urban Resilience and ecosystem Health in Africa. PI. Funder: Horizon2020, EU/AU Commission. 2022-27.
  • Profiling  coastal community vulnerability to climate and disaster risks in the South West Indian Ocean region and mangrove areas including nature-based solutions and opportunities. WWF / NORAD. 2023-24. 

Recent projects

  • Environmental policy review for Cambodia's Rectangular Strategy. Co-I. Funder. Strategy and Innovation Policy Organization. 2022. 
  • Strengthening marine and coastal ecosystem-based adaptation in SADC climate policy. Author. Funder: EU Development Fund. 2022-23.
  • Development Corridors Partnership. Postdoctoral research fellow. Funder: UKRI ESRC GCRF. 2017-22.
  • Measuring the impact of Covid-19 on African informal settlements. Co-I. Funder: UKRI ESRC GCRF. 2020-22.
  • Building resilience to climate shocks: improving the energy infrastructure, Mozambique. Co-I. Funder UKRI ESRC GCRF. 2020-2022.
  • Peri-Urban Resilient Ecosystems: Catalysing rural-urban climate resilient futures in Namibia. PI. Funder: GCRF. 2020-2021.
  • Up in smoke: Future trade-offs between livelihoods, carbon and biodiversity in tobacco landscapes, Tanzania. Co-I. Funder: GCRF. 2020-21. 

Committees and memberships

  • Editorial board People, Plants, Planet
  • Editorial board PLOS Climate
  • Member of the Scientific Steering Committee of the UNFAO World Urban Forestry Forum and the First African Urban Forestry Forum
  • African Academy of Sciences Environment and Climate Change Working Group and Affiliate
  • Next Einstein Forum Fellow 

Current PhD and MSc students

  • Environmental justice for green infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa. R. Han. Joint PhD University of York. 2021-25.
  • Can hybridised ecotourism make vulnerable post-conflict communities more resilient? J. Gnanem. Joint PhD University of York. 2020-24.

Past PhD and MSc students

  • Shaine Chen. Modelling land-use change, from the past to the future: Trade-offs and synergies of ecosystem services in the Yangtze Basin, China. Joint PhD University of York. 2018-22. 
  • Environmental impacts of mining on biodiversity and ecosystem services. H. Seki. Joint PhD University of York. 2018-22.
  • Freshwater management and green governance for small holders farmers in West Africa. Ummuqulthum Usman. MSc SGSD, University of St Andrews. 2023. 
  • Urban heat island formation and urban biodiversity loss: synergies between urban ecosystem management and planning. Agoston Horanyi. MSc. SGSD, University of St Andrews. 2023.
  • Perceptions of inequality in Mathare, Nairobi, Kenya. Z. Essa. Joint MPhil University of Oxford. 2022-23.
  • Urban agricultural biodiversity in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. W. Masele. Joint MSc University of Dar es Salaam. 2020-22.
  • Contribution of urban green infrastructure to informal settlement upgrading. M. Mdongwe. Joint MSc University of Dar es Salaam. 2020-22.
  • Unjust city: informal traders’ access to green space in Windhoek, Namibia. Tapiwa Maruza. MSc in Spatial Planning Namibian University of Science and Technology. 2019- 2021.
  • Development corridors: What is their environmental trade-off? Elena Castelleno, MSc London School of Economics. 2021.
  • Urban green spaces in formal and informal areas in a capital city of Southern Africa, Valentina Giombini, MSc Environmental Change and Management University of Oxford. 2018-2019. 
  • The potential of green areas for urban resilience in southwestern Africa: challenges and opportunities in the peri-urban informal settlements of Windhoek, Namibia. Amayaa Wijesinghe. MSc Biodiversity Conservation and Management University of Oxford. 2018-2019. 
  • Mapping potential livelihood benefits from local ecosystem services in the Elangata Wuas social-ecological system: Kajiado, Kenya. Tyler Breen. MSc International Development Emory University, 2017-2018. 

Current teaching 

  • Module convener: Nature4Climate: Hybridised blue green infrastructure in the Global South (SD4119)
  • Module convener: Sustainable Development Goals (SD1004)
  • Module convener: Sutton Trust Summer School
  • Contributor: Contemporary Environmental Issues (Masters, SD5031)
  • Contributor: Sustainable Development Summer School (Year 11)
  • Tutor: Introduction to Sustainable Development (First Year SD1000)
  • Supervisor: Sustainable Development Dissertatior (SD4297)

Past teaching

  • Supervisor: Geography Review Dissertation (GG4221), University of St Andrews 
  • Convener: Global Challenges for the 21st century Summer School, University of Oxford; Social Science Research Methods, University of Nairobi; Participatory Scenario Planning, Sokoine University of Agriculture
  • Contributor: Sustainable Development: Tools for Action (Second Year SD2002), University of St Andrews; Contesting Sustainability (Third Year SD3000), University of St Andrews; Wildland ecosystems, Colorado State University
  • Tutor: Global biodiversity trade and indigenous communities, University of Oxford; Urban Geography, Univeristy of Oxford;  Field ecology, University of Oxford; Cities of the South, University of Cape Town 

St Andrews service roles

  • Advisor: Sustainable Development Honours 
  • SGSD Open Research Working Group Committee
  • SGSD Recruitment and Admissions Committee Officer
  • SGSD Peer Review College

Selected publications


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