Thursday 27

Knowledge for Climate: Fighting climate change using the latest scientific insights, together

Posted by the Athena Institute on 27 Oct 2016

To help bring RRI to life, the RRI Tools project has identified eight showcases, which are good examples of RRI in practice. We will introduce you to each of these, explaining what it is and why they are good representatives of RRI. At the end of the article, find a testimonial on how you could use the showcase training resource to have a better understanding of RRI, get trained and train others.

Over the last century, due to raising temperatures world-wide, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 meter, a faster rate than the two millennia before (IPCC, 2014).  And as sea levels are prospected to rise even further, this poses a real threat to countries positioned at or below sea level (IPCC, 2014).


Figure 1: Delta works Oosterscheldedam

One such country is the Netherlands and, with a population of nearly 17 million, is also one of the most densely populated countries in the world. In this light, it might not be surprising that in the Netherlands a very inspiring large-scale research program can be found dealing with climate change: Knowledge for Climate.

Climate adaptation through a collaborative business, research and policy effort

Through active cooperation between the Dutch government, the business community and scientific research institutes, the Knowledge for Climate programme (2007–2014) developed applied knowledge that could transform the vulnerability of the Netherlands to rising sea levels into an opportunity for the development of new, internationally applicable, delta technologies as well as attracting businesses. The programme aimed to ensure that long-term decision-making considers the impacts of climate change and to develop successful and feasible adaptation strategies. It focused on a limited number of vulnerable areas, or ‘hotspots', and regional knowledge programmes using an integrated multi-stakeholder participative approach.

Unbreakable dykes

Figure 2: Schematic representation of an unbreakable embankment

Since the major flood in 1953, during which 1836 people lost their lives, the Dutch flood defence system has highly improved and the ‘Delta Works' have gained international recognition. Now, with sea levels rising yearly, many dykes do not meet the current protection norms and are assessed ‘inadequate'. Not only would the economic damage be immense were these dykes to break, in all likelihood many Dutch people would not survive the resulting flood. The Knowledge for Climate programme sets out to assess whether the placement of ‘unbreakable embankments' are more effective in reducing flood risks than conventional dykes, and what the extra costs and remaining risks would be. Instead of heightening them, the dykes are widened to make them more robust and resilient. As a result the water can overflow the dyke, but not break through the dyke, decreasing the amount of water reaching populated areas.

And while calculating the risks and costs, the project consortium, consisting of eight research institutes[1], worked together with local authorities and water management and control specialists to develop safety plans and think of other ways to use the ‘unbreakable embankments'. It seemed that unbreakable embankments would take up a lot more space than conventional embankments, making them a bit more expensive but also more useful in the long run. Spatial planners see many pro's in using these dykes to build parks and houses on. The multifunctional dykes are a smart solution for increasing safety when there is lack of space, while contributing to other social needs.

Climate proof cities

Another set of projects within the knowledge for climate programme focused on urban areas. As in many countries, Dutch cities are expanding rapidly, increasing the need to react to the impacts of climate change on urban areas and to make cities climate proof. Densely built areas heat up faster than other areas, leading to heat waves that affect labour productivity and the health of, especially, sensitive populations. Due to the increased risk of extreme rainfall, sewer overload occurs more often, leading to costly infrastructural problems. The complexity of urban planning often makes it difficult to implement climate adaption measures.

Figure 3: An example of a green roof (www.groendak.info)

During four years, a consortium of ten research centres and universities[2] worked together with local authorities and specialists such as spatial planners, engineers and sewerage experts, to develop research-based action plans for combatting heat waves and city floods. For example, the consortium found out that the level of heating differs between neighbourhoods and even streets, depending on building density, paving, colours of buildings, and the presence or absence of water and plants. One remarkable finding was that water in the city not always serves to cool its surroundings; stagnant water retains heat, thereby increasing night temperature. As many differences exist between neighbourhoods and streets, let alone between cities, urban climate adaptation strategies should be tailored to local circumstances. Due to the engagement of many locally active stakeholders, a number of strategies developed during the program has immediately been put into action. As such, these strategies were adapted while implementing them. In a growing number of Dutch cities, including Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Groningen, local governments provide subsidies to support citizens who aspire to transform their roofs into ‘green roofs'. More plants, flowers, grass and trees in the city will lower the heating, and green roofs have the extra benefit of being small water buffers.

Knowledge for climate: an inspiring case

All in all, Knowledge for Climate excellently shows that if cooperation across academic, governmental and entrepreneurial layers is well shaped, action-driven research can really make a difference. It shows that in one and the same project, both academics can reach their disciplinary aims of furthering knowledge and publishing research articles, policy makers can reach their aims of improving environmental and living conditions and businesses can simultaneously help fulfil societal needs and make a profit. Knowledge for Climate, in other words, really proves Responsible Research and Innovation to be the multi-edged sword it ventures to be.

If you want to know more, read the full training showcase document and if you want to organise training events, download the PowerPoint presentation and engage other stakeholdersFor more information, please visit the Knowledge for Climate website.

Find more inspirng examples of Responsible Research and Innovation in our training resources page.

Pim Klaassen, Michelle Rijnen

Pim Klaassen and Michelle Rijnen work on RRI Tools at the Athena Institute in Amsterdam, the RRI Tools Hub coordinator for Netherlands.

How to use the Blueprint for Knowledge for Climate showcase in training?

Blueprint for Knowledge for Climate showcase is an inspirational case that describes key points of collaboration between science, industry and government on the basis of Dutch Knowledge for Climate research programme with the aim to provide insight in how to put RRI into practice. In a variety of respects it can be of value to different types of stakeholders.:

  • The showcase shows the possibility to work on an existing practice and reframing it in RRI terms and can be of value and use to different types of stakeholders.
    To motivate the participants to prepare and work with the showcase it is helpful to reduce the detailed content of the showcase and - next to a short introduction - focus on aspects you might like to highlight.
  • To filter out the process requirements the "World Café” can be a method to simulate the Knowledge for Climate by playing a role in the programme Knowledge for Climate. A detailed role description of the various stakeholder groups enable the participants to discuss from a different point of view of another stakeholder group and reflect and identify how learning points are applicable to their own practice.
  • It’s important to note that (desired) learning outcomes should be discussed, either at the beginning of the workshop or even before the session with participants.
  • Some questions to evaluate the workshop:
    What brought you to the workshop?
    What stroke you in the workshop?
    ​What do you plan to do with the content after the workshop?

Michaela Shields

Michaela Shields works on RRI Tools at the Bonn Science Shopthe RRI Tools Hub coordinator for Germany


[1] VU University, Flood Hazard Research Centre, TU Delft, Deltares, GFZ, HKV, IVM Institute for Environmental Studies, Wageningen UR, and Alterra.

[2] KWR Watercycle Research Institute, TNO, Deltares, Wageningen UR, University of Amsterdam, UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, Utrecht University, TU Delft, TU Eindhoven.


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