Keynote Speaker Bios

April 24, 2019

Karlheinz Erb
Inst. of Social Ecology, Vienna

Keynote 1: "Land use, a key component of the Earth system at the heart of sustainability challenges"

Dr. Karlheinz Erb is associated professor for Land Use and Global Change at the Institute of Social Ecology (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna). Being trained as ecologist, he has more than twenty years of experience in interdisciplinary research, focussing on the interactions between society and global environmental systems, and the consequences of land use and management for ecosystem structures and functioning across spatio-temporal scales. Topics of interest include sustainability dimensions like food security, biodiversity loss and climate change, with a particular interest in better understanding the role of land management in the Earth system. He was member of the Scientific Steering Committee of the Global Land Project, and currently serves as lead author of the IPCC Special Report on Land Use and Climate Change. He is member of the Young Academy of the Austrian Academy of Science and member of the Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM) at IUCN. He has co-authored more than 100 scientific papers and in 2010 he was awarded an ERC Starting Grant by the ERC for the project "Land Use Intensity from a Socio-Ecological Perspective".

Tania Li
Professor of Anthropology at University of Toronto

Keynote 2: "When the Land is Needed, but the People are Not: Challenging Transition Narratives"

Dr. Tania Murray Li is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. Her publications include: Land's End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier (Duke University Press, 2014) Powers of Exclusion: Land Dilemmas in Southeast Asia (with Derek Hall and Philip Hirsch, NUS Press, 2011) The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics (Duke University Press, 2007) and many articles on land, labour, class, capitalism, development, resources and indigeneity with a particular focus on Indonesia. Her current book project, Plantation Life, is an ethnography of an oil palm zone.

Patricio Grassini
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, United States of America

Keynote 3: “Science for Food: closing yield gaps while minimizing the environmental footprint”

Dr. Patricio Grassini is an Associate Professor of Agronomy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and a fellow of the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute and the Center for Great Plains Study. Patricio earned a B.S. in Agricultural Engineering from University of Buenos Aires (Argentina) and a Ph.D. in Agronomy from UNL in 2007. He has authored 55 papers published in peer-review journals, including top-tier journals such as Nature Communications, PNAS, BioScience, Environmental Research Letters, and Global Change Biology, 7 book chapters, and many extension publications. His research interests center on crop yield potential, yield-gap analysis, resource- and energy-use efficiency in cropping systems, and crop modeling. Patricio’s research covers a diverse range of cropping systems, including rainfed crops in Argentina and Sub-Saharan Africa and high-yield irrigated crops in the U.S. Corn Belt and South-East Asia. Major on-going project is to develop a Global Yield Gap and Water Productivity Atlas (www.yieldgap) that provides estimates of gaps between actual and potential yield for major cropping systems as well as crop water productivity. Dr Grassini is also leading a project to benchmark on-farm yields and input-use efficiency of maize-soybean systems in the US Corn Belt, a USDA-NIFA project on N footprint, and a third project on yield forecasting. Dr. Grassini was recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and other three fellowships and six awards, including the Agronomy Society of America (ASA) Early Career Award and UNL Junior Faculty Excellence in Research Award. Patricio also serves as a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Field Crops Research and Global Food Security journals. He also serves as a member of the Science Advisory Council of Field to Market. Patricio is the elected Chair of the Crop Science Society of America C3 Division for the 2018 term.

April 25, 2019

Eric Dinerstein
Director of the Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions Program at RESOLVE

Keynote 4: "Saving Life on Earth"

Dr. Eric Dinerstein is Director of the Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions Program at RESOLVE. For much of the past 25 years he was Chief Scientist at the World Wildlife Fund. Beginning in 1975, he conducted pioneering studies of tigers and their prey and led conservation programs for large mammals, such as greater-one horned rhinoceros and Asiatic elephants. Along with Dr. Eric Wikramanayake, Eric mapped tiger conservation landscapes, designed the Terai Arc Landscape in Nepal and India, and came up with the idea of a Global Tiger Summit, staged in November 2010, to double the wild tiger population. He helped create the conservation plans for many iconic places–including the Galapagos, the Chihuahuan Desert, the Himalayas, the panda mountains of China, and the northern Great Plains of Montana. He has conservation experience in many countries and has published widely on large mammal conservation including books on rhinos and tigers.

Shuaib Lwasa
Makerere University, Uganda

Keynote 5: "Land use dynamics and a diffusion frontier of the rural-urban gradient in the Global South"

Dr. Shuaib Lwasa is a researcher and academic at Makerere University in the Department of Geography Geo-Informatics and Climatic Sciences. He has over 17 years research and teaching experience. He has led multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary research teams both at national and international levels. His recent publications cover adaptation of cities to climate change, climate change mitigation strategies, land and property rights, vulnerability assessment, adaptation policy and practice, urban planning approaches in global south and disaster risk management. He has worked in partnership with UN-Habitat’s Cities in Climate Change Initiative, Cities and Climate Change Academy as well as the Habitat University Partner Initiative (UNI). He is coordinator of the UNI Climate Change Hub hosted at Makerere University in the Department. He also served as a Scientific Steering Committee member on two international research programs of the Urbanization and Global Environmental Change (UGEC) and Integrated Research Program on Disaster Risk (IRDR). He was a Lead Author of the IPCC Working Group III for the Fifth Assessment Report chapter 12 on Human Settlements. A coordinating Lead Author on AR6, WG III chapter on Urban systems and human settlements.

April 26, 2019 - Thematic Keynotes

Kate Calvin
Dr. at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Keynote 6 on Question 1: "Uncertainties in future global land use and land cover change"

Dr. Kate Calvin is a scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Joint Global Change Research Institute in College Park, MD. Her research focuses on integrated human-Earth system modeling, including work on both the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM), an integrated assessment model, and the Energy Exascale Earth System Model, an Earth system model. Her recent work has examined interlinkages between energy-water-land, human-Earth system feedbacks, and scenario development. She received BS degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Maryland and MS and PhD degrees in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University.

Ole Mertz
Professor at University of Copenhagen

Keynote 7 on Question 1: "Linking local land use change analyses to global assessments"

Dr. Ole Mertz is professor of geography at the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, where he also heads the Section for Geography. His research and teaching responsibilities are focused on global environmental change, land use transitions and food security in the Global South. Specifically, he has worked on the dynamics of forest-agriculture frontiers looking at how changes in land use affect socio-economic and environmental systems. He also works with climate change adaptation and mitigation and has a general interest in the interface between development, environmental management and land use change. Most of his empirical work has been at the local level, but he has an increasing interest in bridging local to global approaches. Mertz's regional specialization is Southeast Asia and West Africa, but he has also worked in the Pacific, East and Central Africa and Latin America. He was a GLP SSC member for 6 years until 2017 and is currently co-editing the Land, Livelihood and Food Security Section of the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.

Kendra McSweeney
Professor of Geography at The Ohio State University

Keynote 8 on Question 2: "How global drug policies, transnational criminal networks, and tax regimes determine land change trajectories in Central America"

Dr. Kendra McSweeney (MSc: University of Tennessee-Knoxville; PhD: McGill University) is a Professor of Geography at Ohio State. Trained in the ‘human-environment’ subfield, her work encompasses political ecology, agrarian studies, and indigenous studies. For over 20 years she has collaborated with indigenous communities in Central America, and also studies human-forest interactions in Appalachia. Her current research focuses on the nexus of illicit economies, drug policies, and land change; that work is published in Science and Environmental Research Letters. Her recent work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and the Open Society Foundations.

Sharachchandra Lele
Distinguished Fellow in Environmental Policy & Governance at ATREE

Keynote 9 on Question 2: "Why bother about land-use change?"

Dr. Sharachchandra (Sharad) Lele got a B.Tech. in Electrical Engineering in IIT Bombay (1984) but then decided that environmental studies was more exciting and socially relevant. So he did an M.S. on the environmental impacts of large dams at IISc, Bangalore (1987) and then a Ph.D. in Energy and Resources from UC Berkeley (1993), focusing on forest use in the Western Ghats. Since then, he has worked at Pacific Institute, Harvard University, and Institute for Social & Economic Change. He co-founded the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment & Development in 2001, and led it till 2009, when it merged with the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE: He is now the Distinguished Fellow in Environmental Policy & Governance at ATREE. Sharad is an interdisciplinary environmental researcher, bridging the natural sciences, economics, and political science to understand the concepts of and pathways to environmentally sustainable and socially just development. He has worked on sustainable forest management and forest governance, forest hydrology and farmer linkages, landuse change, watershed development, water governance, urban water management and pollution regulation. This research has been published in a variety of interdisciplinary journals. Sharad has also co-authored a book on “Community-based Natural Resource Management in South Asia”, (Sage:2007), and edited “Democratising Forest Governance in India” (OUP: 2014) and “Rethinking Environmentalism: Linking Justice, Sustainability and Diversity” (MIT Press: 2018). Sharad is also heavily engaged in policy-related work, including serving on the MoEF-MoTA Joint Committee on the Forest Rights Act, the Karnataka High Court’s Elephant Task Force, the Bellandur Lake Monitoring Committee in Bengaluru, and the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee for Thermal Power Plants and Coal Mining. For more details, see

Lian Pin Koh
Principal (Vice President), Science Partnership and Innovation at Conservation International

Keynote 10 on Question 3: "Conservation drones: Promises and pitfalls"

Dr. Lian Pin Koh plays a key role in strengthening Conservation International’s existing science partnerships and in developing new strategic relationships with academia, technology companies and other NGOs. His research focuses on developing innovative science and science-based decision support tools to help reconcile humanity’s needs with environmental protection. He brings 15 years of experience in the field of conservation biology. Lian Pin joined Conservation International from the University of Adelaide, where he was Professor and Chair of Applied Ecology & Conservation. Lian Pin’s widely-cited research has appeared in more than 120 peer-reviewed papers and books, including Nature, Science and PNAS. His work has been featured by international media, including the New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American and Time Magazine, among others. Lian Pin is also a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, TED speaker, Editor of the journal Biological Conservation and founder of He received his Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University.

Toby Gardner
Director at Trase

Keynote 11 on Question 3: "Transparency and sustainability in global agricultural supply chains"

Dr. Toby Gardner is a Senior Research Fellow at SEI Stockholm, the Director of the Transparency for Sustainable Economies initiative,, and co-lead of SEI´s Initiative on Producer to Consumer Sustainability.Toby has over fifteen years’ experience in science and science-policy issues in human-modified landscapes across the tropics, with a strong emphasis on the management and conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services in multiple-use agriculture-forestry landscapes, and the challenges of balancing environmental concerns and rural development priorities. More recently his work has been focused on how to increase transparency in forest-risk commodity supply chains, and how this transparency can be used to leverage new insights and strengthen sustainability outcomes. He is involved in a number of international environmental policy processes including as a Coordinating Lead Author and Liaison Expert for the global assessment on Land Degradation and Restoration of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, launched in Medellin in 2018. Before joining SEI Toby was a research fellow at the University of Cambridge for five years, and helped found and coordinate the Sustainable Amazon Network. He has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and in 2012 he was awarded the biannual British Ecological Society’s Founders’ Prize for significant contributions to the science of ecology.Toby holds degrees from the University of Edinburgh (BSc, 2001) and the University of East Anglia (MSc, 2001; PhD, 2007).

Oliver Morton was our keynote panel moderator. He is The Economist‘s briefings editor. Before coming to The Economist as energy and environment editor in 2009, he was the chief news and features editor of Nature, the international scientific journal. He specialises in the energy business, climate science and policy, and other green issues. He is the author of “Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet”, a study of photosynthesis, its meanings and its implications, and “Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination and the Birth of a World”.