Dr Paola Sakai

Paola Sakai is an economist with over 8 years of experience specialising in climate change adaptation and resilience research in developing and developed contexts at the University of Leeds, where she also was awarded her doctorate.

I am a highly innovative, problem-solving, changemaker and a committed academic making a significant positive impact in the world. I do challenge-led, use-inspired, solutions-oriented research that inspires students, accelerates collaboration across sectors, disciplines and institutions, to improve systems.

Paola is an expert on the economic impacts of flooding on SMEs. She investigated the 2015 Boxing Day Floods in the Calderdale Borough, UK, and her results were used by the Flooding Commission of the Council as well as the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee as evidence of the impact of flooding on SMEs. She has also examined the flood risk mitigation strategies that this type of organisation can take and sent evidence to the enquiry launched by the House of Commons Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee. She has investigated the interface between flooded SMEs and the insurance sector, and currently,y she has an innovative project with the insurance industry and Local Authorities across Yorkshire and the Humber to increase the flood resilience of SMEs.

Her other expertise lies in cities where she has focused on collaborative urban strategic planning to tackle the climate change challenge. She is part of the Climate Resilient Cities initiative where she led a successful project about how three cities in three different countries could cooperate to enable climate-resilient development (Triangle-city). Among the legacies of the project was to enable the creation of the first Trinational Economic and Sustainable Development Council in Latin America (CODETRI) which is pushing to work together for a sustainable region. She is part of the Climate Smart Cities team where she modelled the CO2 emissions of the transport and waste sectors in Lima Peru; and was an advisor of the CSC in Calgary, Canada. She has also experience in climate services as she has examined how the UK water sector used climate change information to make adaptation decisions.

Paola was awarded a prestigious UKRI Research and Innovation Fellowship where she is developing the strategic case for enabling collaborative action to build resilience in resilient urban infrastructure at a city scale, exploring the synergies between disaster risk reduction and improvements in productivity, economic growth, employment, environmental quality, and human well-being. This research will focus on the Leeds city area, seeking to draw lessons that can be applied more broadly to other cities in the UK and abroad. The research is directly informing and leading the Climate Resilience Working Group of the Leeds Climate Commission. She has been ensuring a strong stakeholder engagement to maximise policy uptake, increase climate resilience and the economic productivity of UK industries, and produce a positive impact on the lives of the UK cities' inhabitants, and beyond. Her results are being tested in the Strategic Health Asset Planning and Evaluation tool of PHE to enable cross-council collaborative strategic planning towards increasing the climate resilience, health, well-being and development of Leeds.

She is also a lecturer in the Faculty of Economics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico since 2004.

Research interests

Paola is interested in climate change adaptation and resilience research in developing and developed contexts. Her work has produced impactful results in cities and SMEs. She specialises in climate vulnerability where she has investigated the synergies between disaster risk reduction, improvements in health and wellbeing, and promotion of inclusive growth. Her work in cities places particular attention to evidence-based collaborative strategic planning and city-to-city cooperation to create resilient cities and food systems; climate finance and economic assessments of weather-related events, climate-compatible development and SDGs.


  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Leeds

  • BSc (Hons) Economics, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)

  • BSc Business Administration, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM)

  • Graduate Diploma in Stock Finance, Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology (ITAM)

  • Graduate Diploma in Planning, Programming and Budgeting (UNAM)

Professional memberships


  • Mentor of Michael Beverley Innovation Fellows -MIT programme, UoL 2022- present

  • Athena Swan Committee – Faculty of Environment –Member 2020 - present

  • Healthier & Resilient Food Systems Network -Public Health England -Member 2022 - present

  • Mine Energy Task force -Member 2022 - present

  • North Yorkshire Intelligence Group on Covid-19 of Public Health England –Member 2020- 2022

  • Weather and Health Impact Cross-Council group of Public Health of the Leeds City Council –2019- 2022

  • Eurocities -Food Working Group -join membership with the Leeds City Council – 2021-present

  • Air Pollution and Health board of the Leeds City Council – 2020-present

  • Leeds Climate Commission –2018-2020


  • Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy –Research Associate

  • Priestley International Centre for Climate –Research Associate

  • Global Food and Environment Institute –Research Associate

  • Water@Leeds –Research Associate

  • Frontiers in Sustainability Journal – Sustainable Organisations - Review Editor

  • RENKEI -UK Japan Research Network –Research Associate

  • UK-Brazil Resilience Research Network -Co-founder and Research Associate

  • Laboratory of Climate Change and Statistics Modelling, Quintana Roo University, Research Associate

Funding: Grants and in bold- Fellowships, Awards, Scholarships

· PI – Policy Fund Support. Food for Our Own Good: harnessing geo-energy for a clean, climate-resilient, just and healthy food system in Leeds (£23,078, 2021 -ongoing). This is a top-up to the previous funding to continue advancing the proof of concept to get a big funding stream.

· PI -Michael Beverly Innovation Fellowship. ‘Food for Our Good’ exploring subsurface solutions to increase the resilience of the Leeds food system. Funded by the University of Leeds Alumni (£10,000, 2021-ongoing). This project aims to create a public-private research and innovation partnership that will explore cutting-edge technologies to produce food that is nutritious, climate resilient, clean and just. We will focus on geothermal sources to heat glasshouses and vertical farms to produce nutritious food. We will examine ways in which sustainable entrepreneurs could channel this healthy food to schools, care homes, hospitals, and food banks to encourage a business ecosystem that fuels a resilient, clean and kind food system.

· Co-I, Implementing Urban Agroecology as Green Infrastructure to increase socio-economic resilience in the face of climate change. Universidad Autónoma de Coahuila, Mexico (£2,000, 2020-2021). This project is to develop collaborations and provide training to Mexican students on this topic.

· Deputy PI, Environmental science to promote public health and wellbeing in the Climate Emergency. Funded by NERC through iCASP (£170,000, 2020-ongoing). Co-I of a project that aims to integrate environment data and a tool that I produced in a web-system and work with Public Health of the Leeds City Council and other Departments to enhance climate resilient decision-making in the Climate Emergency declared by the Leeds City Council. This project is to produce policy impact.

· Co-I, Improving flood risk communication through engagement tools. NERC through iCASP (£123,884, 2020-ongoing). Co-I of a project that aims to deliver engagement tools to promote resilient behaviours in communities vulnerable to flooding across Yorkshire. This project is to produce impact.

· PI, Bridging gaps to boost SMEs resilience: Closing the knowledge gap between Local Authorities, insurers, lenders and surveyors on the economic impacts of flooding and resilience efforts of SMEs. Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council through the Yorkshire Integrated Catchment Solutions Programme (£250,000, 2019-2021). PI of a project that aims to increase the flood resilience of SMEs by co-developing two tools with and for WYCA, EA, Flood risk managers of Yorkshire and the Humber, and the insurance industry. One tool is to assess the economic costs of flooding on SMEs so Authorities enhance their business cases; and the other one is to assess the effectiveness of SMEs flood resilience so lender, insurers, surveyors and brokers unlock insurance and lending processes for SMEs. This project produced social/policy impact, and two papers are in preparation.

· Co-I, Yorkshire Future Flood Resilience Pathfinder. Funded by EA (£574,000, Leeds share £185,000, 2019-ongoing). Co-I of a project that aims to increase the effective uptake of PFR across the Yorkshire Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (YRFCC) area. communities, planning and construction professionals, the construction industry and the insurance sector to deliver behaviour change that will lead to the increase in the usage of property flood resilience measures (PFR) across the Yorkshire Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (YRFCC) area. This project is to produce social impact.

· PI, Water efficiency standards for new developments. NERC through iCASP (£2.000, 2019). PI of an project where evidence was gathered evidence for the Leeds City Council for adopting a policy on water efficiency standard. The evidence was taken into account and the policy has full policy weighting in the determination of new planning applications in Leeds. This project was to produce policy impact.

· Co-I, The economic development and social welfare of smallholder farmers in Parana, Brazil. Funded by the British Academy (£120,000, 2018-2020). Co-investigator of a project that investigated the use of current and alternative bioenergy crops in small-scale farming communities to increase their welfare while also considering policy perspectives to advance overall Sustainable Development Goals. This project sought to produce two papers.

· Deputy PI, UK-Brazil workshop on financing climate-resilient development in small and medium-sized cities. British Academy Newton Fund (£50,000, 2018). Funding to organise a week-long workshop to build links between early career researchers between the UK and Brazil. This project was to develop research links.

· PI -UKRI Research and Innovation Fellowship. The Economics and Financing of Resilient Urban Infrastructure. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (£417,310, 2018-2021, success rate: 27%). I was awarded a UKRI Research and Innovation fellowship to focus on developing the economic case for investing in resilient urban infrastructure at a city scale, exploring the synergies between disaster risk reduction and improvements in health, well-being, and inclusive growth. This project is to produce policy impact and journal articles.

· Deputy PI, Triangle-City Cooperation: building climate-resilience in the Parana basin. Climate Compatible Development network (CDKN), International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano (FFLA) (USD$456,070, 2016-2018, success rate: 5%). Co-investigator of the Triangle City Cooperation project which aimed to achieve climate compatible development in transboundary basins. Three cities were selected for this: Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, Foz de Iguacu, Brazil, and Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. We conducted vulnerability assessments of the three cities and through a participatory approaches, the project is providing the evidence of solutions that can be implemented to reduce climate risks and create development in 3 cities of 3 countries. I am the lead researcher coordinating a team of 3 partner organisations, 8 research assistants situated in the three countries. I liaise with ONU-Habitat, National and Local government to apply to the Adaptation Fund (https://triangle-city.leeds.ac.uk/). This project was strongly focused on impact, and numerous outputs were produced, e.g. policy briefs, reports, newsletters, information sheets, journal articles, and events.

· PI, Can ‘Flood Re’ increase the resilience of small businesses? Investigating flood insurance and other strategies to move forward. ESRC Centre for Climate change Economics and Policy (CCCEP): Innovation Fund (£10,000, 2016-2018). This project was to produce policy impact. I gathered evidence on the financial and practical means that small businesses have to manage the impacts of flooding, and the alternative strategies are available for them to reduce flood risk. The analysis of quantitative and qualitative data was presented in a reaction workshop, and it was written in the form of a report and sent to an EFRA Parliamentary call for evidence.

· PI, Economic Assessment of the 2015/16 Winter floods in Calderdale. ESRC Centre for Climate change Economics and Policy (CCCEP) (£2,000, 2016). I obtained a grant to conduct an Economic Assessment of the 2015 Boxing Day floods on SMEs in the Calderdale Borough. I developed a partnership with the Calderdale Council and a local NGO, which helped advertise the online survey that I developed. The outcome was a joint report which was used by the Flooding Commission of the Calderdale Council to seek funding towards the implementation of flood level protection. Also, it was used as evidence by the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee and the Calderdale Flood Commission. This project was to produce practical knowledge.

· Co-I, Streaming: Getting the Social into Flood Policy. ESRC Festival of Social Science. Leeds, (£1,450, 2016)

· Co-I, Researchers in Development Conference series. Leeds Social Science Institute (£1,000, 2013 & 2012).

· Fieldwork grant for PhD project. Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds (£1,500, 2011).

· Young talented academics award: Beca Olmeca. National Autonomous University of Mexico (£19,000, 2009-2012).

·. PhD Scholarship. National Council on Science and Technology, Mexico. (2009-2013).