Jessica Thorn
  • KY16 9AL

    United Kingdom

Accepting Postgraduate Research Students

PhD projects

I am open to a range of topics related to climate change adaptation and nature-based solutions and environmental change. I am particularly interested in work related to urban green infrastructure in informal settlements, infrastructure impacts on land use change, normative future visioning as well as transformations in mountain social-ecological systems.

Personal profile

Research overview

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. Together with collaborators, she has secured > £2 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. PI. WWF / NORAD. 2023-24.
  • Republic of Congo peatlands sustainable management and conservation assessment. Co-I. Wildlife Conservation Society. 2024-2025.
  • Systematic review of green house gas accounting standards. Co-I. Oxford Net Zero. 2024.

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 students

  • Giesberta Shaanika, “Locally led, co-designed nature-based solutions in informal settlements in Northern Namibia”, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Namibia. 2024-.
  • Johannes Andrews, “Barriers to maintaining native and non-native species of urban green infrastructure in informal settlements”, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Namibia. 2024-.
  • Daulphin Razafipahatelo, “Evaluation of urban green infrastructure on reducing the severity of multi-hazard risk exposure to flood, heat and pollution in Antananarivo’s peri-urban areas, Madagascar.” ESSA-Forêts, University of Antananarivo. 2024-.
  • Alivony Ravelomanantsoa, “Enhancing cyclone adaptation through urban green infrastructure in Antananarivo's informal settlements.” ESSA-Forêts, University of Antananarivo. 2024-.
  • Rui Han, “Environmental justice as a sustainable strategy for green infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa” Department of Environment and Geography, University of York. 2021-.
  • Jey Gnenem, “Can hybridized ecotourism development make vulnerable post-conflict communities more resilient against spatial impacts?” Department of Environment and Geography, University of York. 2019-.

Current MSc students

  • Nairn Guilbert, 2024. “Effectiveness of private investment in coastal infrastructure in Africa: a comparative continental analysis”. SGSD, University of St Andrews.
  • Tanu Kugathasan. “The efficacy of carbon credits and taxation”. SGSD, University of St Andrews.
  • Priscilla Forson . “Sustainable Solutions to Tackle Textile Waste in Ghana.” SGSD, University of St Andrews.

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

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Science, Ecosystem services, biodiversity, and human wellbeing along climatic gradients in smallholder agroecosystems in the Terai Plains of Nepal and Northern Ghana, University of Oxford

Jan 2012Mar 2016

Award Date: 1 Jul 2016

Master of Science, Integrating climate adaptation and disaster reduction: A participatory investigation of community responses to flooding in Mathare Valley Slums, Nairobi , University of Oxford

29 Sept 20107 Sept 2011

Award Date: 7 Sept 2011

Bachelor of Social Science, Housing struggles, land occupation and eviction processes: Negotiating lived experiences in Zille-Raine Heights informal settlement, Cape Town, University of Cape Town

1 Jan 200431 Dec 2008

Award Date: 31 Dec 2008


  • GE Environmental Sciences
  • Nature-based solutions
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Marine and coastal ecosystems
  • Land use change
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Urban resilience
  • Mega infrastructure sustainability
  • Mountain social-ecological systems
  • Agrobiodiversity


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or
  • The African development corridors database 2022

    Thorn, J. (Creator), Mwangi, B. (Creator) & Juffe Bignoli, D. (Creator), Dryad, 2021


  • Expert survey data on key challenges, drivers, and ecosystem services across mountains worldwide

    Klein, J. A. (Contributor), Tucker, C. M. (Contributor), Nolin, A. W. (Contributor), Hopping, K. A. (Contributor), Reid, R. S. (Contributor), Steger, C. (Contributor), Grêt-Regamey, A. (Contributor), Lavorel, S. (Contributor), Müller, B. (Contributor), Yeh, E. T. (Contributor), Boone, R. B. (Contributor), Bougeron, P. (Contributor), Bustic, V. (Contributor), Castellanos, E. (Contributor), Chen, X. (Contributor), Dong, S. K. (Contributor), Greenwood, G. (Contributor), Keiler, M. (Contributor), Marchant, R. (Contributor), Seidl, R. (Contributor), Spies, T. (Contributor), Thorn, J. (Contributor), Yager, K. (Contributor), Abbott, M. (Contributor), Bowser, G. (Contributor), Carpenter, C. (Contributor), Cumming, G. S. (Contributor), Evangelista, P. (Contributor), Fernandez-Gimenez, M. E. (Contributor), Flint, C. G. (Contributor), Forbes, B. C. (Contributor), Gerkey, D. (Contributor), Ghate, R. (Contributor), Ghorbani, M. (Contributor), Haider, L. J. (Contributor), Karna, B. (Contributor), Kulbhushan, K. (Contributor), Leisz, S. J. (Contributor), Martín-López, B. (Contributor), Nakileza, B. R. (Contributor), Price, M. F. (Contributor), Savchuk, D. (Contributor), Šmid Hribar, M. (Contributor), Sproles, E. (Contributor), Suryawanshi, K. R. (Contributor), Taber, A. (Contributor), Tappeiner, U. (Contributor), Tevzadze, G. (Contributor) & Ueno, K. (Contributor), Colorado State University, 1 Jan 2019