Key Projects

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Other projects

Governing under Complexity

BioStarGovernance for biodiversity has expanded beyond the multilateral negotiations in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). A recent report, ‘Beyond the CBD: Exploring the institutional landscape of governing for biodiversity‘, identifies 108 international and transnational cooperative initiatives with relevance for biodiversity. The initiatives operate outside the auspices of the CBD, engaging nearly 10,000 non-state (e.g. companies and non-governmental organizations) and sub-national (e.g. cities and regions) actors, in various biodiversity-related policy fields such as energy, fisheries, agriculture and forestry. 

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Scientists today see mounting evidence that the entire earth system now operates well outside safe boundaries. According to a recent scientific assessment of the international Earth System Governance Project, human societies must change course and steer away from critical tipping points that might lead to rapid and irreversible change, while ensuring sustainable livelihoods for all. This requires a fundamental transformation in current patterns of consumption and production.

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Governance  and  institutions  are  increasingly  becoming  a  central  concern  within  the  more quantitatively oriented modelling and scenarios  community. In  order  to understand  the  effectiveness of  institutions  in steering  society and the  international system at  large  towards sustainability, a number of approaches have been developed  within  International  Relations  and  global  environmental  governance  research,  that potentially can be  integrated  into  the on-going  attempts  to  model  political  developments  and  interventions. The  quest  for  integration  of  social  science  research  into  more formalized  methodologies  such  as  modelling,  computer simulation and scenario development  represents  one  of  the  cutting-edge  research  frontiers in sustainability politics.  The  research  project  involves  a  two-step  methodology,  which  is  based  on  the  idea  of institutional  diagnostics. In  the  first  step,  the key  features  of  the  issue  and  the  issue-area will be identified as clearly and sharply as possible. The  second  step deals  with  defining the  nature  of  the  institutional  arrangements needed  to mitigate the problem  in question or to  find ways  to  adapt  to  its  impacts. The  key challenge  is  to  formalize  the  aforementioned  qualitative  factors,  through  quantitative  techniques, such as computer based modelling.

Contact information: Prof. P.H. Pattberg.

W-11-005 PBL_Background_10June2011_FINAL.pdf

W-11-003 PBL_Biodiversity_10June2011_FINAL.pdf

Multi-stakeholder partnerships have become a much applied new mechanism in global environmental governance. At the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development the idea of multi-sectoral partnerships was taken to the intergovernmental stage — with the so-called Partnerships for Sustainable Development presented as an official outcome of the summit. These partnerships usually bring together governments, non-governmental organisations and the private sector; in contrast to the traditional outcomes of international summits such as intergovernmental treaties or declarations. Thus far, more than 300 partnerships have been formally registered with the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.

This offers the opportunity for new, extensive, and comparable empirical research as well as renewed theoretical insight. The PARTNERS project hosted by the Department of Environmental Policy Analysis at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is interested in three interrelated questions: first, under what conditions did partnership arrangements emerge in global environmental politics? Second, how do they influence global environmental politics? And finally, how do partnerships perform in terms of democratic legitimacy and accountability or transform these concepts? To answer these questions, the research project developed a methodological approach that brings together quantitative and qualitative elements. The quantitative part consists of the Global Sustainability Partnerships Database (GSPD) which profiles the partnerships regime in the sphere of United Nations, as well as structured surveys that reflect the assessment of different sectors on the influence of partnerships. The qualitative part includes in-depth qualitative case studies, semi-structured interviews, as well as text and discourse analyses.

The project is now focusing further on two specific areas of investigation. Discourses around the Partnerships for Sustainable Development, specifically the discourses of privatisation of governance, sustainable development, and participatory democracy, are analysed from a historical, post-structuralist perspective. Also in-depth studies are conducted on partnerships in the Asian, in particular Chinese, context; in collaboration with the EU Science and Technology Fellowship Programme in China (STF-China) and the Renmin University in Beijing.

Contact information: Prof. Philipp Pattberg.empty

ADAM supported the EU in the development of post-2012 global climate policies, the definition of European mitigation policies to reach its 2020 goals, and the emergence of new adaptation policies for Europe with special attention to the role of extreme weather events.   The main objectives were:

To assess the extent to which existing climate policies can achieve a socially and economically tolerable transition to a world with a global climate no warmer than 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

To develop a portfolio of longer term policy options that could contribute to the EU 2 degree Centigrade target, and targets for adaptation.

To develop the requirements for climate change appraisal in different contexts to enhance the emergence of innovative mitigation and adaptation strategies.

IVM's role was to co-ordinate Work package 2 (Policy and Governance) and to take part in the other work packages, especially on climate change appraisal.

Contact information: Dr Dave Huitema.

Governance Innovation and Institutional Change

SaladThe SALAD project has as objective to improve the resilience of food production in saline and potentially saline agricultural areas in the Mediterranean and North Sea regions by:

  1. supporting the development and sustainable use of innovative salt-tolerant crops,
  2. identifying and further developing crop cultivation adapted to saline conditions,
  3. exploring and testing innovative market development techniques and instruments with the goal of upscaling crop/food chains across the EU and Africa,
  4. exchanging knowledge and transferring practical and adaptive solutions.

SALAD involves 11 partner institutions from six countries in Europe and Africa, with IVM as project leader. The project receives a total funding of 1.4 million euros from the ERANET Cofund on Food Systems and Climate.

Contact person: Dr Kate Negacz.

NEWAVE is Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network (ITN) on the ‘Next Water Governance’, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme, which aims to equip a new generation of future water governance leaders with fundamental knowledge, advanced skills, and adequate tools to address current and future water governance challenges.

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WastewaterIn 2021, the AQUACONNECT project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NWO) has been added to the EPA water governance portfolio), which will seek to advance the Dutch and global  discussion on circular water use in delta areas, and involves 21 partners, including various industrial companies, consultancy firms, water boards and Dutch provinces. The project is led from Wageningen University and EPA provides the work package leadership on Integrated Assessment and Societal Change. 

Contact person: Prof. Dave Huitema.

NewcomersIn its most recent Energy Union package, the European Union puts citizens at the core of the clean energy transitions. Beyond policy, disruptive innovations in energy sectors are challenging the traditional business model of large energy utilities. One such disruptive, social innovation is the emergence of new clean energy communities (‘newcomers’). The possible benefits of these ‘newcomers’ for their members and for society at large are still emerging and their potential to support the goals of the Energy Union is unclear.

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Blue and green roofWith the RESILIO (Resilience nEtwork of Smart Innovative cLImate-adapative rOoftops) project, 10,000 m² of smart blue green roofs are being realized in Amsterdam. This is necessary because it rains more often and harder, as well as getting hotter. Excess rainwater is stored underneath the green layer of plants on the roof. The water can be retained or discharged with a smart valve connected to the weather forecast. This helps us to keep our feet dry and our heads cool. The roofs provide space for new nature, and that is good for the city. We bring roofs to life!

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Set against scientific predictions, current international responses to climate change are widely perceived to be inadequate. There is a growing perception that many mitigation and adaptation measures are being taken outside the international regime. In this sense governance has become considerably more polycentric, with pockets of dynamism especially evident at the national and subnational levels, but also in the so-called transnational sphere. However, there is far less agreement regarding if and how these innovations can be scaled up; if and how they should be coordinated; and where the necessary leadership to achieve this might originate. To address these gaps, INOGOV:

  • identifies ways in which innovative forms of policy and governance for climate change have been stimulated and diffused across time, space and different modes and levels of governing;
  • builds a stronger evaluation capacity to assess actual and intended effects and impacts of these forms;
  • shares usable knowledge with network participants to reach a fuller appreciation of what it means to govern climate change more innovatively.

INOGOV draws together scholars and practitioners within and outside Europe who focus on particular aspects of policy and governance innovation, namely their ‘sources’; ‘diffusion’; and ‘effects’. By using the full suite of COST networking instruments to explore the inter-relationships between these topics, the project extracts greater value from previous research investments.

Contact information: Dr Dave Huitema.

INOGOV website

Capacity building has recently been incorporated in flood risk management policy as means to increase local resilience. In this project we focus on building two key capacities that are crucial to reduce flood risk and mitigate adverse consequences at local level: social capacity and civic capacity. Social capacity has been defined as the resources available at various levels (individuals, organizations, communities) that can be used to prevent, cope with, recover from and adapt to external stressors. Civic capacity should be understood as one of these resources, and refers to the ability that a community has to articulate the views of different stakeholders (governmental and non-governmental) concerning collective problems. In this context, the project aims to design two consistent tools – an Assessment Tool and a Participatory Tool – to assess and develop social and civic capacities to cope with flood risk at local level. The tools will be applied in five pilot urban case studies, located in five European river basins in France, Spain, The Netherlands, Italy and Germany, in order to identify good practices and illuminate how these capacities could be built. Participatory processes will be carried out and actions implemented in the pilot areas, and the level of social and civil capacity attained will be measured. Finally, a guideline on social and civic capacity building will be produced and made available to policy makers.

Contact information: Dr Dave Huitema.

InnovcitiesMarie Curie Individual Fellowship INNOVCITIES will look at water governance through the lens of cities, and focus on investigating institutional innovation for adapting to climate change. The first step will be to conduct a semi-quantitative survey of approximately 30 ‘innovative’ cities across the world to look at the types of institutional innovations occurring (e.g. policy change, new organisational setups). Then an in-depth qualitative comparative research will be conducted in three innovative cities across diverse contexts to understand how and why innovation is occurring, linked to underlying mechanisms of institutional change. Potential cases are: The Netherlands, South Africa, and Brazil.

Contact information: Dr Dave Huitema.


LiveDiverseLiveDiverse will develop new knowledge on the interactions between human livelihood and biodiversity in riparian and aquatic contexts in four developing countries (Vietnam, India, South Africa, Costa Rica). It has a strong emphasis on dissemination and the constructive engagement of a broad selection of social groups and their governmental and non-governmental representatives. The analysis of biodiversity values, sustainable use and livelihoods (biodiversity governance) within the project adopts vulnerability as a unifying concept, taking the point of departure in the concepts of biodiversity and livelihood vulnerability. Vulnerability will be considered from a combination of bio-physical, socio-economic and cultural perspectives, where human ability to conserve and husband biodiversity while at the same time achieving sustainable livelihoods is of vital importance. The analyses of areas will analyse vulnerability in terms of biophysical, socio-economic-legal and cultural/spiritual issues. Maps of these three perspectives will then be constructed in each case study and incorporated into a Geographic Information System (GIS) system. these maps will be to identify biodiversity and livelihood ‘hot-spots’, that is, places where there is a high risk (according to natural science criteria), and a low capability (according to the socio-economic, law and policy criteria). Finally, biodiversity and livelihood scenarios will be developed. These scenarios will take into account the main perspectives; biological diversity risk, socio economic ability and cultural perceptions to cope with effects of this risk. Working in a fifteen year perspective, these scenarios will examine future possible trends, threats and developments in order to formulate strategies and policy to meet the needs of both biodiversity and livelihoods.

Contact information: Dr Dave Huitema.

Governance Evaluation

ActsClimate action in the post-Paris policy landscape: The role of non-state initiatives in the transformation of Sweden into a fossil fuel-free welfare state.The Paris Agreement has opened up a new chapter in political efforts to tackle climate change. It provides a new flexible framework for moving the world towards decarbonization, leaving goal-setting and implementation up to states. The Paris Agreement also officially recognizes the importance of non-state (e.g. business and civil society) and sub-national (e.g. regions and cities) climate initiatives. The climate regime thus combines top-down elements of international cooperation with bottom-up elements of voluntary societal climate action. This rapprochement of the realms of state and non-state climate action challenges the state’s traditional role as rule-maker and regulator and instead invites governments to become networkers, coordinators and facilitators in what has been framed as polycentric climate governance. 

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ClimengoGlobal efforts to mitigate climate change have increased in number and scope over the past decade. The Climate Initiatives Platform – maintained by the United Nations Environment Program – contains over 220 transnational governance arrangements with relevance to climate change, in addition to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The proliferation of new institutions has created a patchwork of actors, rules and decision-making processes across private and public sectors that affect climate governance.

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Next buildingsNearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEBs) have been positioned as a low carbon strategy by the European Union in its Directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings (Directive 2010/31/EU). The EU FP7 project NEXT-BUILDINGS focused on low energy buildings also called active houses, which are not only buildings, but active components in the overall integrated energy systems. The target was to demonstrate affordable solutions for social housing and revitalisation of town areas in the cities of Amsterdam (NL), Helsingborg (SE), and Lyon (FR). Researchers from EPA contributed by analysing end-user expectations and experiences with living in these energy-neutral city districts and homes, identifying lessons learned. 

Contact person: Dr Nicolien van der Grijp

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This project aims to explore the relationship between ‘worldviews’ (or: ‘philosophies of life’) and the ways these relate to goals and issues of sustainable development, including social-cultural change, individual environmental behaviour and policy attempts to influence these. Through a mixture of quantitative and qualitative research methods – including surveys, in-depth-interviews and participative observation – the philosophical underpinnings of individual views, values, behaviours and lifestyles are explored. Special attention is paid to the dynamics of worldviews, that is, the changes in worldview taking place, and their potential for strategies, practices and policies aimed at sustainable development.

Contact information: Dr Joop de Boer.