Ambassador Award

Kaveh Madani

Yale University and Imperial College London


Citation for Kaveh Madani

Dr. Kaveh Madani receives the Ambassador Award for his outstanding societal and policy impacts as an ambassador of the AGU community. He has achieved a remarkable record of selfless public/political service, advocacy, raising awareness, and public engagement; has played a unique and instrumental role in the global water, environmental, and climate change politics and diplomacy; and has dedicated his career to protecting the global common environmental good and turning science into real-world decisions and impacts. 

Kaveh is well known for the breadth of his socially meaningful research, spanning the areas of hydrology, environmental science, climate change, engineering, systems analysis, economics, and human behavior. As an accomplished scientist with an unusual ability to connect science to policy/society and convert complex science into understandable information, his exceptional research and communication skills have made him internationally recognized as a leading spokesperson in the debates pertaining to global water management, environmental, and climate change policies, politics, and diplomacy. 

At the age of 36, he was invited by Iran’s government to serve as the deputy head of the Department of Environment, that is, the deputy vice president of Iran. He gave up his tenured faculty position at Imperial College London and returned to his home country to translate research into “real-life” applications and address the country’s critical environmental management challenges. Kaveh’s accomplishments during his public service in Iran despite the major security challenges he faced have been well documented by the media. 

Kaveh’s impact has not been restricted to his home country, Iran. Kaveh has done research, advocacy, and humanitarian works in other parts of the Global South and North. His exemplary political/diplomatic career record includes impactful positions like the vice president of the United Nations Environment Assembly Bureau and the head of a national delegation at the COP23 (23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) climate change negotiations and ThirdUN Environment Assembly. 

Only a small percentage of established scientists succeed in transforming science into publicly digestible information; a smaller percentage of them manage to impact policymaking, and an even much smaller group achieves influential policymaking roles in the real world. Kaveh Madani belongs to that very small group. His inspiring career history represents the life of a self-effacing, humble, and extremely hardworking scientist dedicated to the promotion of science in the real world. He is an inspiration to all members of the Earth and space communities who dream about converting their science into policy and societal impact. 

—Daniel P. Loucks, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.


Thank you so much, Pete, for leading the nomination and for your very generous citation. I am incredibly honored to be the youngest recipient of the Ambassador Award from AGU to date. I am grateful to those colleagues who supported this nomination and thank AGU for this encouraging recognition that I share with my outstanding mentees, mentors, and collaborators. Being recognized as the ambassador of the AGU community is extremely humbling.


My career journey has been rather unusual. My interdisciplinary interests led me to wonderful experience of collaborating with and learning from some of the world’s leading scholars in engineering, natural sciences, and social sciences. My desire to solve real-world problems engaged me in policy-oriented research that took me to different parts of the Global South and North, introducing me to complexities that are often overlooked in our reductionist, academic research. My passion to turning science into common knowledge has motivated me to improve my science communication skills and produce public education material. 


As an academician and a former government official, I have had eye-opening interactions with different environmental stakeholders, from those fighting for a living and survival to those placing their financial and political motives above the environment and basic human rights. I have sat across from the world’s political leaders trying to address climate change and the other globally shared environmental problems while being protective of their nations’ rights to better economic and living conditions. I have seen environmental defenders beaten, jailed, and killed. I have been targeted by smear campaigns and faced major security threats in my fight to raise awareness and protect the environment and environmental human rights. These experiences have taught me that science is naïve and hopeless when it ignores the real-world complexities, trade-offs, and major socioeconomic differences of societies.

Today, I value teaching and societal outreach efforts more than in the early days of my career because I believe to address unsustainable development, climate change, and other anthropogenic existential threats to humanity, we need a cadre of environmental fighters, global thinkers, and change makers who have a better understanding of the world and are capable of replacing cheap talk and ambitious buzzwords with impactful action. 

I would like to thank the University of Central Florida and Imperial College London for allowing me to pursue my unusual interests as a faculty member. I also thank Yale University, Stockholm University, University of California, Riverside, and the other universities that hosted me and supported my work in various stages of my career. I am grateful to the journalists who have made my research more relatable to the public. I am indebted to my remarkable colleagues at Iran’s Department of Environment and Iranian environmental activists, whose sincere efforts helped us successfully launch various educational and public awareness initiatives during my public service in my home country, Iran. I am thankful to the wonderful people of Iran for their support during and after the political phase of my career. Lastly, my deepest gratitude goes to my incredible family and my amazing friends, who have unconditionally supported me and my career choices even when those choices have complicated their lives. Without them this journey would have been much more difficult and much less enjoyable.

I look forward to actively contributing to global climate action and the fight for environmental protection and justice as an AGU ambassador.


—Kaveh Madani, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.; also at Imperial College London, U.K.