Friday, 20 October 2017

Article in Environmental Politics

Our research article on the little adaption progress in the Dawlish case study had been accepted by Environmental Politics. It's online here:

BASE Adaptation Inspiration Book

Colleagues from the University of Lisbon have edited a book which includes 23 case studies from the BASE project:

It features our case studies on Dartmoor (pp. 22-25) and Dawlish (pp. 88-91). 

Great to see this co-production resulting from all the different case studies !
Well done Kiat Ng, Ines Campos and Gil Penha-Lopes for putting this together.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

ECPR SGEU Conference Trento (Italy)

ECPR Standing Group EU Conference Trento (Italy) 16-18 June 2016

It's beena bit silent this blog recently. It should be good of course if you can always squeeze in a moment here and there for an update. But my attention shifted, and I was busy with moving back to the Netherlands and starting up a new job.

Anyhow, about the conference. This was the first ECPR event I attended. The ECPR is the academic association of European political scientists. The conference was hosted in the city of Trento, in Northern Italy. Surrounded by mountains, with a nice historic centre, good food and friendly atmosphere. This conference focused specifically on policymaking and politics in the EU.

I presented a paper on policy integration in a session on EU environmental policy, with the case of analysing the integration process of climate change adaptation into EU coastal and marine policy. The various topics of the conference were pretty wide in scope, though all somehow related to policymaking and politics in the EU. For example, the sessions I attended were on dynamics and accountability of EU executive actors, the implications of delegating tasks either to the European Commission or the member states, the role of interest groups and stakeholders in the European Commission and various agencies, responsive representation (i.e. how and to which extent does public opinion resonate in EU decisionmaking), and effectiveness and legitimacy of EU transboundary crises management.

Plenaries were on the migration crisis and the EU’s policy and response on that, and on the future and expected main challenges of the EU. In the first plenary, on the migration crisis, there was a striking slide called “the magic formula”, with a hypercomplicated formula to distribute refugees among the member states. It was apparently proposed by the European Commission to solve the refugee crises. As the presenter explained, this technocratic proposal did not receive a lot of positive response. In the second plenary, on the future and challenges of EU, there was more explicit mentioning of the upcoming Brexit referendum. The general expectation is that a leave outcome may well be a realistic prospect. What the wider repercussions of such a leave will be, is at this stage hard to predict.

Furthermore, I learned that the trade boycott between Russia and the EU is circumvented by using Belarus (White Russia) as a go-between. Belarus is supposedly neutral. EU products are apparently brought into Belarus, relabelled as Belarusian-made and then further transported to Russia. I also learned that a gender lens may be helpful in identifying certain patterns and actors in environmental policy. Such a gender-specific lens may not seem obvious at first sight in the field of environmental policy. But for example, in the EU, 80% of groceries is in general done by women, which makes them a very important decisionmaker when it comes to food consumption patterns.

The panels in this conference tended to follow a certain format, which is maybe standard for ECPR events, but was new for me. The three, four or five presentations in a panel are done straight in a row (so no questions in between), followed by feedback from one discussant who has looked at the papers presented in that panel (quite some effort there!), then the chair collects the various comments and questions from the audience, and the panel closes with 2 minutes for each presenter to answer or reflect on the received feedback. The positive point of this format is that at least you’ve heard all the questions and thoughts floating around in the room (whether they are all answered by the presenters is actually less relevant). Very often you only hear a selection of the questions, as time has run out. On the other hand, such a format makes the dynamic not that interactive, with 4 presentations in a row.

What struck me was that most (not all) of the presentations seemed to be structured in quite a different way than I’m familiar with to communicate about academic research. I admit it was even building up to some slight irritation about this other style, when I realised that this is apparently the way it works for this group of political scientists. As this was my first ECPR event, I also feel more like a visitor, and perhaps I should just observe the differences, and not immediately label them with a certain qualification.

So what are these differences? Most (not all) of the presentations at this conference talked about the analytical framework, and elaborate on underlying assumptions, how they relate to each other and where they are derived from. Which is of course very interesting and relevant for an academic discussion. Then the remainder of the presentation talked about general findings in aggregate terms, finishing up with some conclusions. However, most (not all) the presentations tended to skip:
- Reason, context, knowledge gap
- Main research question/aim
- Testing/applying in empirical context, e.g. a policy field, sector, policy setting case, certain actor or actor constellation
- Data collection, sources used
- Breaking down of the findings with some illustrations, examples, quotes to show how it works in practice
- How the collected empirical data (if at all) was analysed
- And meaning of the findings for the wider, conceptual, literature debate

Now, there may very well be different perspectives on presentations about academic research. In my experience, the above listed ingredients tend to help get your study across. 

While there were exceptions that stood out with a substantial interesting story and a good delivery, there were also a number of speakers which spoke quite soft and monotonous, some with a heavy accent, and presenters tended to sit.

So, that were some of my observations and impressions. I don’t know how representative this ECPR event was for other ECPR events, they tend to have a quite a good reputation actually. Finally, I met a couple of nice and interesting researchers, and was very happy to have been able to visit the lovely town of Trento.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Responses to the opinion article in Trouw

Below features the text of the opinion article with Emmy Bergsma, which was recently published in Dutch newspaper Trouw. We've received several reactions since. These include roughly two types of reactions:
1) a supportive type of reaction, from people who share our surprise on the lack debate on the consequences of the new Dutch flood risk policy. 
2) a more critical reaction, mostly from people who have helped technically in developing this new policy. According to them, this opinion article is exaggerating, and seems to suggest we don't understand the calculations and numbers.
Indeed, there will be what is referred to as a 'basic safety' norm, in the past there were also differences in flood protection levels, the process seems to have opened up somewhat under the current Head of Department (Minister Schultz), and lower levels of government have been informed about this new policy (note that some have responded that they find the new policy too complex and that they can't explain this to their citizens). 
However, this new calculation tool enables more political space to make choices in which areas will receive higher protection levels than others. There are indeed currently also differences in protection levels, but the space to increase these differences will be become bigger. And moreover, it is not clear yet, in which way the norms will chance exactly for the flood-prone areas in the Netherlands. Also, the Deltaprogramme very explicitly indicates it targets cost-efficiency, and indicates it will aim for differences in protection levels based on the value in an area (i.e. density of people and economic assets). And it very explicitly refers to the approach called "Multi-layered-safety", which also implies differences in protection levels, including evacuation plans instead of dike protection. 
In addition, 2 years ago, the OECD pointed out in the Policy Dialogue on Water Governance with the Dutch government (in 2013), that general awareness of flood risks appeared to be surprisingly low. Dutch flood risk management appears to have become so good, that people don't realise anymore that they may be living in flood-prone areas. It does not appear that since the OECD Policy Dialogue, Dutch citizens have become substantially more aware of the flood risks, or even that the norms for their areas might be changing (as a consequence of the new Deltaprogramme). 
Apart from debate about the numbers and exact changes in flood risk norms, what this article tries to point out, is that people who pay taxes for collective flood risk protection may be affected by this new policy, although it is not yet clear how exactly, and there has been no national debate about how we want to finance our flood-protection, how we distribute the benefits, and whether we want to base flood-protection solely on a financial logic.


Bescherming tegen overstromingen niet langer collectief goed

Emmy Bergsma
promovenda op gebied van waterbeleid, Universiteit van Amsterdam
Roos M. den Uyl
beleidsonderzoeker op gebied van klimaatadaptatie, University of Exeter

Er dreigen grote risico’s voor Nederland op het gebied van waterbeheer. Klimaatverandering vergroot niet alleen de kans op grote overstromingen, ook lokale wateroverlast zal vaker voorkomen. Als gevolg van nieuw overheidsbeleid, zal een deel van de Nederlanders in de toekomst genoegen moeten nemen met minder bescherming tegen overstromingen.

Op het zesde Nationaal Deltacongres, dat onlangs plaatsvond, bleek de grote vooruitstrevendheid waarmee de overheid deze klimaatrisico’s te lijf gaat. Het belangrijkste wapen in deze strijd is het zogenoemde Deltaprogramma. Maar dit programma heeft gevolgen die tot op heden aan de publieke aandacht lijken te zijn ontsnapt.

Twee maatregelen uit het Deltaprogramma, de deltabeslissing ‘Waterveiligheid’ en de deltabeslissing ‘Ruimtelijke Adaptatie’, knagen namelijk aan een van meest diepgewortelde basisrechten in de Nederlandse geschiedenis: het recht op collectieve bescherming tegen overstromingen. Vooral dunbevolkte provincies waar relatief weinig economische activiteit plaatsvindt, lijken het kind van de rekening.

Met de deltabeslissing Waterveiligheid stapt Nederland over op nieuwe normen voor de waterveiligheid. Met deze nieuwe normen wordt explicieter rekening gehouden met de mogelijke (economische) gevolgen van een overstroming. Dit betekent dat in gebieden waar het risico groot is - waar veel slachtoffers kunnen vallen of waar overstromingen veel financiële schade kunnen aanrichten - de overheid blijft inzetten op dijkversterking. Hiervoor is eerder dit jaar bedrag uitgetrokken dat met lof werd ontvangen: 20 miljard euro tot 2050.

Maar een vrijwel onbesproken keerzijde van deze deltabeslissing is dat in ‘lage-risicogebieden’ - dunner bevolkte of economisch minder actieve gebieden - de veiligheidsnormen omlaag gaan. Noord-Hollanders buiten de Randstad hebben in de toekomst dus minder recht op collectieve bescherming dan Noord-Hollanders in de Randstad; Friesland ontvangt relatief minder bescherming dan Zuid-Holland.

De deltabeslissing Ruimtelijke Adaptatie heeft een soortgelijk effect. Met deze beslissing wordt in ‘lage-risicogebieden’ ingezet op ‘ruimtelijke maatregelen’ als alternatief voor dijkversterking. Ruimtelijke maatregelen hebben niet zozeer als doel overstromingen te voorkomen, maar moeten er voor zorgen dat het lokale watersysteem de gevolgen van een overstroming beter kan opvangen. Te denken valt aan het toepassen van waterresistente bouwmaterialen in uw woning, het verminderen van verhard oppervlak op uw bedrijventerrein en het afkoppelen van uw regenwaterafvoer op het gemeentelijke rioleringsstelsel. Ruimtelijke maatregelen doen dus een groter beroep op u als burger.

Bij elkaar opgeteld, heeft het Deltaprogramma tot gevolg dat burgers in ‘lage-risicogebieden’ minder aanspraak kunnen maken op collectieve bescherming tegen overstromingen dan burgers in ‘hoge-risicogebieden’ terwijl zij tegelijkertijd moeten mee-investeren in ‘ruimtelijke maatregelen’ om zich te blijven weren tegen overstromingen.

Deze verandering is vanuit een financieel oogpunt begrijpelijk. Op sommige plekken is inzetten op ruimtelijke maatregelen ‘kostenefficiënter’ dan overal de dijken verhogen. Waterbeheer stelt ons land nu eenmaal voor lastige keuzes. Maar met het Deltaprogramma stuurt de Nederlandse overheid aan op technocratische besluitvorming over overstromingsrisico’s, waardoor dit soort besluiten buiten het politieke en publieke debat wordt gehouden.

Dit is onverstandig. De gevolgen van het Deltaprogramma zijn niet alleen technisch van aard, maar raken mensen daadwerkelijk. De overheid houdt de belangenafwegingen achter het Deltaprogramma nu vooral intern. Hierdoor kunnen mensen de keuzes achter het nieuwe waterbeleid niet bevragen. Bovendien kunnen burgers en bedrijven, als zij hierover niet geïnformeerd zijn, zich niet voorbereiden op de gevolgen die het nieuwe waterbeleid voor hen zal hebben. De overheid zou juist open moeten zijn over dit soort keuzes. Niet alleen voor de legitimiteit, maar ook voor een effectieve uitvoer van het Deltaprogramma.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Dutch flood risk management

I recently wrote a short opinion piece about the new Dutch flood risk management, with a fellow researcher from the University of Amsterdam (Emmy Bergsma). It builds upon the work we did in BASE for D2.2, and the analysis I did of Dutch adaptation policy. Flood risk policy is the main developed pillar of Dutch adaptation policy. And Emmy Bergsma's research compares flood risk management in the Netherlands and the USA. The opinion piece has just been published in one of the major Dutch quality newspapers, Trouw.
In short, it's about the upcoming changes in Dutch flood risk management. The Dutch government has decided to make Dutch flood risk management more cost-efficient. That may sound very reasonable and appropriate at first sight. But the lack of public and political discussion about the consequences of that decision is striking. What it will mean is that people living densely populated areas will be entitled to higher protection levels than people living in rural areas. In addition, people living in rural areas will have to organize and fund protection measures themselves, something which used to be collectively organized in the Netherlands, and whilst these regions have not yet been actively informed. The lack of public and political debate about this new flood risk policy jeopardizes the legitimacy and effectiveness of it.

Saturday, 5 September 2015


Last week, there was the yearly international conference from the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in Exeter (from 1-4 Sept). The RGS had selected a couple of papers which they thought would be interesting for the press. The contribution from me and my colleague Duncan Russel about our study on the Dawlish railway line was included in the RGS’ press release. Well and indeed, apparently, it was interesting for the media! As several approached me for an interview. Within 2 days I had given 3 interviews for radio, 1 for television and 1 for a newspaper. As addressing the media is pretty new for me, it was quite a steep learning curve. I realized how intense it is!! It takes quite some concentration and effort to explain the main points of the study as clear and accessible as possible and at the same time as short and concise as possible. If you’d like to have a look at how our study was covered in the media, here are some links:

- National news radio programme on BBC 5 Live, Drive, around 1u48min (available until end of September):

- Regional radio, BBC Radio Devon, I haven’t been able yet to locate around which time (let me know if you do) (also available until end of September):

- Local radio, Radio Exe, but I don’t think the clip is available online:

- The clip in the regional television news programme BBC Spotlight is unfortunately no longer available online

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

ECCA Conference May 2015 Copenhagen

Last week, I was at the European Conference on Climate Change Adaptation (ECCA), in the lovely city of Copenhagen. There were researchers from many different perspectives, but all sharing an interest in climate change adaptation. I observed two strands of research to be quite dominant at the conference:

1) Research on knowledge supply. For example in terms of economic assessments, impact assessments, risk assessments. All more or less under the heading of improved insight into options, expected effects and events will enable better climate change adaptation. Which means that there is an underlying assumption that there is currently a lack of knowledge, and that there is an underlying assumption a certain willingness or readiness from decision making (or decision influencing) actors to use that knowledge. An interesting contribution nuancing this idea of knowledge supply came from James Porter, from the University of Leeds, who presented on a study about the relationship between knowledge on climate change and actions by local authorities (in the UK) – summarised in my own words as: knowledge is important to enable action, but without resources and political support, more knowledge is not likely to support action.  

2) Research on participation, dialogue, knowledge exchange, learning, co-creation. Of which most research is more or less centred around the idea that actors are interested in and able to (and invited to) join a deliberative process around climate change adaptation. And on the idea that a deliberative process is beneficial to develop and implement an adaption plan. There was a refreshing contribution from Joanne Vinke-De Kruijf (from the University of Osnabrueck), who studies the factors why groups, networks or consortia learn (and what they actually learn) in cases around water management.

While climate change adaptation is increasingly being studied and considered in sectors such as agriculture, water management and nature conservation, there are also sectors which have been studied less in relation to climate change adaptation. And which have also been less active in climate change adaptation, such as health, sports and education. Dormant sectors, Mikael Hilden from SYKE in Helsinki, called them. Where there is still a lot of potential for actors to become more active in addressing climate change impacts, and for researchers to study these sectors.

At the conference last week, it was as if for many researchers climate change adaptation is something like a given, as something that is important and relevant and that obviously will require action. Well, considering the expected climate change impacts (floods, droughts, heat stress, storm surge impacts), adaptation may indeed be something wise to consider. But, in practice, climate change adaptation is not (yet) taking place everywhere, in all sectors, or is considered by various decision makers at various levels. In comparison to many other established environment-related topics (such as nature conservation, agriculture, sustainable development), climate change adaptation is still a relative newcomer. Established decisionmaking structures may not necessarily be open, willing or able to include climate change adaption. Wouldn’t this be something in particular interesting to study? To acknowledge that climate change adaptation is not automatically addressed everywhere. And to study why existing decisionmaking structures include a relative newcomer such as climate change adaptation or not?

PS: international academic conferences are essential for academic development. It enables to learn from each other, be introduced to new research, ask questions, follow and participate in debates, meet people, etc. (Unfortunately not replaceable by video conferencing.) However, flying all these researchers around the world obviously does not contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There doesn't seem to be a solution for this insight, put perhaps we could think a bit more about it?