Climate Change Adaptation in Dutch Local Communities. Risk Perception, Institutional Capacity and the Role of Local Government.

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This report explains the outcomes of the research project Analysing local climate vulnerability and local adaptation strategies which was carried out from 2005 up till 2009 at the Twente Centre for Studies in Technology and Sustainable Development (CSTM), University of Twente. This project is funded within the research programme Vulnerability, Adaptation and Mitigation (VAM) from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The role of local government is crucial for preparing society for climate change impacts. Yet there are relatively few systemic studies of local community initiatives to improve adaptation capacities. The current study presents an analytic scheme for assessing Dutch municipalities in the context of multilevel governance. The scheme focuses on: (1) historical experience with flooding impacts, and (2) the probability/risk of new climate change impacts. Controlling for size and type of community (rural/urban), the study presents interview-based data for nine case studies. We can conclude that adaptation to climate change at the local level is a complex policy issue, depending on many external and internal factors. We have tried to gain insights into these factors by investigating the role and the institutional capacity of municipalities in the Netherlands. We have distinguished local ‘firebrands’ of significant importance. The presence of a local administrator (alderman) on environmental affairs from the national Green Party is related crucial to the promotion of climate-related initiatives. We also found that the more ‘willing’ cases were active in all sorts of networks. This varied from EU projects to urban networks and inter-municipal cooperation. Interviewees actively confirmed that these networks played a key role, as they enable the local actors to exchange knowledge and best practices, and to share the costs of research and trial projects. Within such stimulating networks, local actors are more motivated to explore climate-adaptation efforts that would otherwise be too ambitious (resource-demanding) for a single municipality. The urban cases proved almost all (3 out of 4) to be active climate mitigation frontrunners. They generally consider climate change adaptation as a new dimension of climate policy. However, while mitigation now has become an urgent issue, the challenge of specific adaptation initiatives is new and combined with many uncertainties. In nearly every case, there was little sense of urgency in relation to either vulnerability or preparedness. Despite the complex nature of the problem, interviewees in the mitigation frontrunner cases express their belief that the problem of climate change adaptation will gradually ‘settle’ into a more commonly accepted issue. Local conditions proved to be most decisive in our study of local adaptation strategies. The study reveals that the local situation exerts a significant impact on the climate change problem. It makes clear that all cases have their own particular situation that is determinative for the effects of climate change impacts. For instance, while the cases with high risk and experience are ‘used’ to preparing themselves for climatic events, the urban case without increased risk or any experience appeared to be similarly involved in climate change adaptation without any clear threat. The factors risk and experience did not prove as decisive as anticipated.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationUniversiteit Twente, Enschede
PublisherCenter for Clean Technology and Environmental Policy
Number of pages182
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Publication series

NameCSTM reports
PublisherTwente Centre for Studies in Technology and Sustainable Development, CSTM


  • METIS-273090
  • Adaptive capacity
  • Adaptation
  • Risk Perception
  • Local government
  • flooding
  • The Netherlands
  • IR-78189


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