SELECTED RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS
Paying for nature’s services can be made more cost-effective
An international team of scientists, including IVM’s Roy Brouwer, carried out worldwide research into the relatively new policy instrument ‘paying for ecosystem services’ (PES). In an article in Nature Sustainability they conclude that the intended effect on nature is often not achieved. PES are intended to reward farmers and other land users for the public ‘by-products’ they produce, such as carbon sequestration, watershed management, or biodiversity protection. However, the financial incentives in PES for land use that generates such ecosystem services tend to be insufficient. Furthermore, there is room for improvement in the institutional framework and enforcement mechanisms.
Global Flood Detection and Monitoring using Social Media
Over the last 10 years, floods have caused 400 billion euros in damage and caused almost 60.000 casualties. Research shows that rapid response efforts are often hampered due to a lack of timely and useful information. Usually, floods are detected and monitored using hydrological models or satellite imagery. However, many flood events remain unreported and the average time-lapse between start of a flood and flood detected by response organizations is large. More recently, people and organizations have increasingly started using information from online media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, news articles and blog posts) to monitor flood events.
As part of ongoing research into the use of online media in flood monitoring, researchers at IVM and FloodTags released a new tool that globally detects and monitors flood events. It provides a real-time overview of ongoing flood events based on filtered Twitter data. Specifically, the Global Flood Monitor (GFM) detects, in real-time, regions with enhanced flood-related Twitter activity and classifies these as flood events. Then, it generates a world-map visualizing these events and their relevant tweets. The platform also provides access to historical events dating back to July 2014.
Incorporating behaviour dynamics in flood risk assessment
Professor Jeroen Aerts and Professor Wouter Botzen (both IVM), recently published in Nature Climate Change. The paper outlines a research agenda for improving estimates of flood risk, by including human feedback and dynamics in flood risk modelling.
Current methods for assessing flood risk assume that societal responses to climate change and changing flood risk over time are static inputs to hydrological and flood risk modelling tools. In reality, however, the behaviour of individuals, businesses, and government entities before, during, and immediately after a flood event can dramatically affect the economic damages and recovery time. For example, research in Germany shows that the losses due to a flood in the river Rhine were about half of a similar flood two years before, because people had high risk perceptions and were better prepared after the first flooding experience. This study shows why not accounting for such human feedbacks in flood risk assessment methods is a concern.
Innovations in flood-risk assessment that integrate societal behaviour and behavioural adaptation dynamics into such quantifications lead to more accurate characterization of risks (up to a factor 2). Better insights into flood risk improves assessments of the effectiveness of risk-management strategies and investments in adaptation to climate change, like coastal protection against sea level rise. The paper argues in favour of developing novel approaches such as agent-based models, that integrate hydrological models with methods from, for example, behavioural economics. Such new approaches, that integrate risk modelling and human responses to risk, improve risk estimates, and are therefore important for guiding flood-risk management policy.
Optimizing the balance among food production, conservation and ecosystem services
Intensively-used landscapes have to fulfil multiple objectives, including food production, biodiversity conservation and ecosystem service provision. Attempts to meet multiple, conflicting demands at the landscape scale involves trade-offs. IVM researchers have developed an optimization method that can allocate land management options in a way that balances multiple objectives and minimises such trade-offs, and applied it to the Kromme Rijn region in the Netherlands. Together with stakeholders relevant land management measures were identified (switching to organic production, hedgerow planting, or restoring pastures to natural grasslands). Subsequently, the model allocated these measures to agricultural parcels, to optimize for fruit production, aesthetic quality and biodiversity, while minimizing impacts on dairy farming. Results were compared to the current landscape configuration and existing nature conservation plans, showing that objectives may well be met by combining measures in a spatially optimised manner, with lower impacts on dairy farming and higher gains for conservation and fruit production. The results (published in Environmental Science & Policy) are now used to facilitate a discussion among stakeholders on the sustainable development of the Kromme Rijn region.
Smallholder farmers climate change adaption strategies in Kenya
The paper Assessing multi-level drivers of adaptation to climate variability and water insecurity in smallholder irrigation systems, recently published in World Development by Jampel Dell’Angelo and other researchers from different U.S. Universities, is part of a large inter-disciplinary research endeavour funded by several U.S. NSF awards, seeking to understand adaption and socio-environmental dynamics of small-scale farming on the slopes of Mount Kenya. One of the key aspects of this research is how smallholders organize collectively to manage local irrigation schemes and how these schemes enable individual farmers to adapt to climate variability. Specifically, this paper applies a multidimensional perspective to investigate the variety of strategies that smallholder farmers apply to adapt to hydro-climatic variability, a particularly strong and concerning phenomenon in Kenya, as in many other semi-arid agricultural systems. These adaptive strategies take place both household and community levels. They include shifts in planting dates, decisions to plant different varieties of seed and changes to the array of cultivated crops. Several social and environmental factors influence these decisions and the way different actions are implemented for local adaptation. Using a variety of social and hydrological data collected by a large interdisciplinary team during several seasons of fieldwork, the paper reports the results of a standard ordinary least squares and logistic regression analysis aimed at understanding smallholder adaptation within irrigation systems in relation to household and community-level characteristics. One of the key results is that water governance regimes and collective decisions are especially important for the equitable distribution of water resources and potential for individual farmers to mitigate the effects of drought. We found that a diminished capacity to irrigate at the household level is associated with greater willingness to try seed varieties with different maturations periods, which supports the notion that smallholders engage in adaptive strategies when pressured by water shortages. Future inter-disciplinary work looking at decision-making and collective action in semi-arid agroecosystems should focus on the interplay between smallholder adaptation, water governance and collective action. A short documentary describing the research motivations and the area investigated is available here.
New Specialization in the Earth Sciences Master: Global Environmental Change and Policy
From September 2018 on, IVM, in collaboration with the department of Earth Sciences, will offer a new specialization in the Earth Sciences Master programme: Global Environmental Change and Policy. This specialization integrates the disciplinary insights from Earth Sciences, Environmental Economics and Environmental Policy and Governance to arrive at interdisciplinary solutions to the complex sustainability problems of tomorrow. The first year lays the groundwork in the three disciplines and methods of interdisciplinary research, including fieldwork. From a strong grounding in Earth Sciences, we explore integrated approaches towards solving global sustainability challenges by adding the insights of environmental economics and environmental policy studies. Climate change is a central and cross-cutting theme throughout this specialization. In the second year our students can deepen their studies in three distinct streams: energy, ecosystems and biodiversity, and water. Our motto is: ‘Integrating Earth Sciences, Environmental Economics and Governance to address tomorrow’s complex sustainability challenges’.
Workshop series on water scarcity
Research school SENSE has organised a series of three workshops on water scarcity. The workshops were aimed at PhD-level students, but were also open to interested professionals and last-stage MSc students in the water sciences. The series was hosted by IVM and supported by Amsterdam Water Science (AWS) and the Amsterdam Sustainability Institute (ASI-VU). More information and workshop reports can be found here. Due to the success of these workshops, the series will be continued in 2019.