St John's College Oxford
Dr Rachel James

Dr Rachel James

Supernumerary Teaching Fellow in Physical Geography



I am a climate scientist, researching African rainfall systems and climate change.  I teach physical geography to undergraduates at St John’s. 

I am currently in the first of five years at St John’s, and developing a research programme in climate change science to support climate policy and adaptation planning. Prior to this I was a Research Fellow at the Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University, and worked on several large research programmes under the “Future Climate for Africa” consortium, including as a Visiting Researcher at the University of Cape Town in 2017–2018.

I teach a broad range of physical geography topics, including climatology, geomorphology and ecology, as well as methods and approaches in physical geography. In the first year this is quite focused on fundamentals, and then in second and third year we move on to consider dynamics and change in the Earth’s system, as well as human–environment interactions relating to issues such as land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change. When I started studying geography as an undergraduate, I was actually more interested in human geography, but I became totally fascinated by the atmosphere and the interactions of the Earth system. I love it when students get just as excited about physical geography! And I also particularly enjoy exploring the importance and applications of science in tutorials.

I am keen to supervise undergraduate and graduate research projects on African climate and climate change, as well as analysis of climate to support decision making, and the role of climate science in international to local level policy and planning. I am very open to interdisciplinary projects, for example on climate change impacts, which could be co-supervised by colleagues working on land surface change, hydrology or food systems (for example).

Selected publications

James, R., Washington, R., Abiodun, B., Hart, N., Kay, G., Mutemi, J., Pokam, W., Artan, G., Senior, C. (2018). Evaluating climate models with an African lens. BAMS, 99:313-336, doi: 10.1175/BAMS-D-16-0090.1.

James, R., Washington, R., Schleussner, C-F., Rogelj, J. Conway, D. (2017). Characterising half a degree difference: A review of methods for identifying regional climate responses to global warming targets. WIREs Climate Change, doi: 10.1002/wcc.457.

Boyd, E., James, R., Jones, R., Parker, H., Otto, F. (2017). A typology of loss and damage perspectives. Nature Climate Change, 7: 723-729. doi:10.1038/nclimate3389.

James, R., Washington, R., & Jones, R. (2015). Process-based assessment of an ensemble of climate projections for West Africa. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. doi:10.1002/2014JD022513.

James, R., Otto, F., Parker, H., Boyd, E., Cornforth, R., Mitchell, D., & Allen, M. (2014). Characterizing loss and damage from climate change. Nature Climate Change, 4(11), 938–939. doi:10.1038/nclimate2411.

 Download a complete list of publications and citations on google scholar.

Research Interests

The majority of my research is based on analysis of climate data, including climate models, to investigate how African climate systems work, and how they might be influenced by human greenhouse gas emissions. Recently I have been focusing more on southern Africa, but I also have experience in analysis of Central, West and Pan-African climate.

At the same time, I am investigating how climate information can be developed to better support climate policy. I have a strong interest in international climate negotiations, and climate science to inform mitigation goals and loss and damage policy. I am also working on the use of climate science information from regional to local level adaptation planning, for example by water managers and agricultural companies.

Collaborating across disciplines, countries and cultures is fundamental to my research. I am particularly keen to work more closely with scientists in African universities, and develop partnerships outside of academia. Existing collaborations include researchers at University of Cape Town, University of Yaounde I, University of Nairobi, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Sokoine University, Lund University for Sustainability Studies, London School of Economics and Political Science, and Universities of Leeds, Manchester and Sussex. I am also lucky enough to work closely with the UK Met Office, facilitated by the Met Office Academic Partnership.