Dr. McElwee's interests are in global environmental problems, with particular expertise in biodiversity conservation, climate change, and forest restoration. She is most interested in how individuals and households respond to changes in the physical environment, and how their responses are shaped by external policies and other constraints. Most of her research combines household-level analysis of environmental decision-making and resource use with an examination of global institutional practices and norms that influence environmental policy. She is currently PI on an NSF-funded study of the use of ecosystem services concepts in environmental policy formation in Southeast Asia, including the governance of nature-based solutions.
Much of her current work also involves organizing and writing in teams for science-policy assessments. She has served as a lead author for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment (2019), lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Climate Change and Land (2019), and the first joint IPCC/IPBES report on Biodiversity and Climate Change (2021). She will be co-chairing the upcoming IPBES “nexus” assessment on the interlinkages between biodiversity, water, food, climate and health. She is also currently Chapter Lead for Ecosystems, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services for the ongoing Fifth US National Climate Assessment, to be released in 2023.
She was trained as an environmental scientist and anthropologist at Yale University (Ph.D in Forestry & Environmental Studies and Anthropology), Oxford University (M.Sc in Forestry) and the University of Kansas (B.A in Political Science). Before becoming an academic, she worked at the US Senate for Al Gore, in the Clinton White House on environmental policy, and at the US EPA.
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