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Since 2017/18 ECCI and SAGES - the network that gives organisations, businesses and policy-makers to access geosciences-related expertise from across Scotland - have been teaming up to offer pioneering career enhancement opportunities for SAGES members.

The programme links students with relevant host organisations and is at the forefront of bringing academia and business together to tackle global environmental challenges. A range of business, third and public sector organisations working in priority areas of interest for SAGES were matched with PhD and MSc students to work together on meaningful consultancy projects.

Here we hear about a project undertaken by Kate Sargent, a PhD student from the University of Dundee, who was employed as a SAGES intern on the Children’s Climate Risk Index project, a collaborative project to support UNICEF in estimating the impact of climate change on children, both now and in the future.

Policy Internship summary

The impacts of climate change are usually considered from an adult perspective, however, children experience climate change differently. The project uses the most up to date climate projection data to assess children’s exposure to environmental shocks and stresses, alongside an examination of characteristics of child vulnerability, associated with climate change. The outcomes of this project will help UNICEF in developing a strategy to advocate for children effectively at global and national levels.

I worked with a team from The University of Edinburgh to identify where in the world the transmission of mosquito borne diseases, specifically Malaria, Dengue fever and Zika virus, are likely to occur in 2020 and in 2050, under two different climate change scenarios. These diseases pose a significant risk not only to children’s lives, but also to their health and socio-economic well-being.

Previous research has shown that climate change is likely to cause shifts in spatial and temporal exposure to these diseases, however, there is no research to date that focuses on the global risk to children nor of their exposure to multiple mosquito borne diseases.

Through a review of the literature a suitable methodology was identified which allows the isolation of environmental covariates that affect transmission of these diseases. The methodology uses the thermal limits of disease transmission and moisture requirements for mosquito breeding, to identify areas where the temperature and moisture conditions are suitable for disease transmission, and for how many months. This meant that future average temperatures under two different climate change scenarios from the most up to date climate model projections could be used to identify areas suitable for disease transmission in 2050.

The result is a set of gridded, global data of months of potential exposure to each disease and all three diseases combined. An index score of between 0 and 1, was also allocated to each location based on the number of months of potential exposure. These index scores can be used by UNICEF to identify global populations of children exposed to these three diseases, feeding into the wider project and providing insight on how they intersect with other climate related risks, such as extreme weather events. This will allow UNICEF to focus their efforts on the most vulnerable populations of children.

“Being involved in this project has been an amazing and fulfilling experience." Kate Sargent, SAGES intern

"The project has offered an opportunity to learn widely within my area of interest, specifically the potential impacts of climate change on children and how to measure them. It has allowed me to learn new practical skills, like how to use the statistical software R to create my datasets and global maps of potential exposure to mosquito borne diseases.

"It has also given me an insight into how large research projects operate and allowed me to develop a network of contacts across the collaborative team, all of which will be useful for my PhD and future career.”

“Kate’s work cross-cuts three of the five SAGES Themes and contributes significantly to the breadth and depth of SAGES research." Dr Sian Henley, SAGES Theme 3 co-lead and Co-PI of the project

"By improving our understanding of how climate change will influence the spread of vector-borne diseases into the future, Kate’s work constitutes a significant step forward in how to manage these risks, with clear relevance for policy and decision-making at local, national and regional scales.

"As such, this work expands SAGES’ research impact within the Scottish, UK and international scientific community. Well done Kate!”


Supported by ECCI, SAGES is a network that gives organisations, businesses and policy-makers to access geosciences-related expertise from across Scotland.

It acts as a knowledge broker between scientists and research users, including Government teams and small businesses.