Richard Klein was only 24 when he became lead author of a chapter in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Second Assessment Report, published in 1994. He has been a lead author or coordinating lead author of every IPCC Assessment Report since, as well as two Special Reports.

By the time he was 30, he had co-authored groundbreaking research on coastal vulnerability and adaptation. Since then, he has worked to bring science into discussions about adaptation policy and finance, highlighting the complex nature of vulnerability and exploring the limits to adaptation.

And he has worked to advance knowledge through international research, capacity-building and educational collaborations, including as co-director and chief scientist of the Nordic Centre of Excellence for Strategic Adaptation Research (NORD-STAR) and as a member, until last year, of the Scientific Steering Committee of the Global Programme of Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation (PROVIA).

On Thursday, as part of the closing plenary of the Adaptation Futures 2016 conference in Rotterdam, co-sponsored by PROVIA, Klein was surprised with an award from his peers: the “Burtoni”, named after the Canadian adaptation science pioneer Ian Burton.

Created in 2003 by a group of climate experts and policy-makers, the Burtoni recognizes outstanding contributions to the science of adaptation to climate change. Along with Burton, past recipients include Roger Jones (Australia), in 2005; Saleemul Huq (Bangladesh), in 2007; Coleen Vogel (South Africa), 2010; Karen O’Brien (Norway/USA), 2012, and Mark Pelling (UK), 2015.

In keeping with tradition, it was Pelling, the latest award recipient, who selected Klein – and who presented the Burtoni to him. He withheld Klein’s name until the last possible moment, calling him “the recipient” as he recited his accomplishments.

“I would like to think the recipient has pushed forward a number of really critical boundaries… not just intellectually, but also in practice,” Pelling said of Klein. He also founded “one of the most influential journals” in its fields, he added: Climate and Development.

Klein, who helped organize Adaptation Futures, but was kept completely in the dark about his award, said it was “an unexpected but wonderful honour”.

“I’m very proud not only of the peer recognition of my own work, but also of that of the many fantastic colleagues with whom I’ve worked over the past 20-plus years,” Klein said later. “I’m also proud that the award recognizes not only my research, but also my work in communicating climate adaptation. It’s fantastic to see that the journal Climate and Development, which I founded 10 years ago and which was first published in 2009, has been so successful. The journal has become essential reading for all those interested in the interactions between climate impacts, mitigation, adaptation and development on scales from the local to global.”

The rules of the Burtoni require that Klein pass on the award, within three years, to someone of his choosing. “This person cannot be a close collaborator or someone with the same nationality, so we already know that the next winner won’t be Dutch,” Klein said.

See Richard Klein’s publications »

Read Climate and Development (external link)