IMPETUS highlights systemic solutions for climate resilience at ICSD

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Adapted from the 28 September UNSDSN blog by Maëlle Voil: ‘Systemic Solutions and Innovations for Climate-Resilient Regions: A look into European research program Horizon 2020 sister climate projects IMPETUS and ARSINOE’.

Today, sustainable development projects no longer revolve around the success of a specific technology. Instead, they are about promoting deep transformations by bringing different stakeholders together, and actively promoting human engagement, interdisciplinarity and learning by doing. On 19 September 2022, representatives of the sister climate projects IMPETUS and ARSINOE joined guest speakers and more than 150 online participants to explore ‘Systemic Solutions and Innovations for Climate-Resilient Regions’, in the second plenary session of the 10th Annual International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD 2022).

IMPETUS and ARSINOE are funded by the prestigious European research program Horizon 2020 in the Green Deal call. They explore the best pathways to climate change adaptation in different European bioclimatic regions by bringing together the most up-to-date scientific and technological advances with local knowledge and an understanding of the difficulties experienced by the communities they work with. Using advanced social engagement mechanisms combined with powerful ICT tools, they will test a combination of innovative solutions in 15 different case study demonstration sites. Their objective is to address the complex challenge of sustainable development through consensus, aiming to improve the active participation of local communities in creating solutions, knowledge and decisions about how best to adapt to climate change and mitigate its impacts.

Professor Gunter Pauli, economist, entrepreneur and author of ‘The Blue Economy’ gave an opening address calling for urgent action. The need for analysis of scientific and economic considerations to underpin careful but appealing communications to encourage action was emphasised by the panelists, who gave examples from their own areas of expertise. Dr. Aline Mosnier brought perspectives as Scientific Director of the Food, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Land-Use, and Energy (FABLE) Consortium. Civil engineering expert Professor Chrysi Laspidou of the University of Thessaly in Greece spoke for the ARSINOE project along with Dr. Martin Drews, a Senior Researcher at the Technical University of Denmark, who co-chairs the Collaborative Program on High Impact Events and Climate Change of the European Climate Research Alliance, and is a member of the Expert Advisory Group of the European Climate Risk Assessment. , Dr. Andrea Marinoni, Associate Professor of Remote Sensing at UiT The Arctic University of Norway spoke about the IMPETUS project’s approach, combining satellite data with societal information in digital tools to aid community engagement and decision making.

The session was moderated by Laura Durnford of the IMPETUS partner European Science Communication Institute (ESCI) and chaired by Andrija Erac, Manager with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). SDSN is a partner in the IMPETUS and ARSINOE projects and was co-organiser of this session.

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High temperatures

Record-breaking summertime temperatures have been recorded in the Netherlands in recent years. With global temperatures rising, such extreme weather events will occur more often, and for longer periods. Prolonged high temperatures, with warm nights as well as hot days, can cause heat stress* and related health issues, particularly among city populations. 

*Heat stress occurs when the human body cannot get rid of excess heat and can impact wellbeing through conditions such as heat stroke, exhaustion, cramps and rashes.

"We want to enable municipality decision makers who are working on spatial developments to identify heat stress 'hot spots' and cool areas, analyse the future effects of climate change, and model the effect of different heat stress-reducing measures. The tool must provide them with an easy starting point to integrate heat stress risks in their projects."

Issue

Despite the cooling effect of the sea in the region of Zeeland, the growing risk of heat stress has become a concern.

Elderly and other vulnerable people are more impacted by the effects of prolonged heat, which can cause headaches, dizziness, insomnia and other health issues – even death. Excess temperatures also affect general comfort and liveability of cities. Water quality can be reduced, both for drinking and swimming, and infrastructure can be affected. Buildings and concrete surfaces trap heat, potentially leading to damage, and release it during the night, keeping temperatures warm.

During heat waves, it is important that everyone has access to a cool and comfortable place. Appropriate spatial planning can help to decrease and deal with heat stress. Environmental factors like water bodies, trees, and shade have a major impact on stress caused by high temperatures. Therefore, planting trees, removing concrete surfaces, creating green roofs and cool spaces can improve our comfort and health. The IMPETUS Atlantic team is developing a digital tool to support regional decision making for city planning to address these needs.

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Flood risk

By 2050, sea-level within this region is predicted to rise by 15-40 cm, with more frequent extreme weather and more (severe) storms triggered by climate change. These changes will exacerbate the natural risk of flooding in the IMPETUS ‘Atlantic’ region, because it is surrounded by rivers and the sea, and is below sea level.

*Risk takes into account two aspects; the chance that an event will occur and the negative impact of such an event once it occurs. When there is a low chance that an event will occur, but its impacts are huge, the risk is still significant.

“In the Netherlands, an extensive system of dikes protects us against sea and river flooding. We have always put our faith in this defence and focused almost solely on flood prevention. However, pressure on our system will increase with climate change and rising sea levels. To adapt and maintain a safe living environment, we should develop other safety measures, like more robust spatial planning and contingency plans."

Issue

Rotterdam city, is located in Rijnmond – ‘mouth of the Rhine’. The Rhine river flows through this densely populated area and characterises the region. Protections such as sea dikes and storm surge barriers have been constructed to protect the region, but flooding still occurs.

People living in the city are accustomed to seeing smaller floods. The changing climate affects the interplay between rainfall, river levels and sea storms, increasing the flooding risk. Water levels could rise by a few metres, even in populated areas, with potentially massive impacts. 

Mitigation measures such as storm surge barriers reduce the chance that high water reaches the city, but to minimise the impact of floods when they do occur, adaptation strategies are also needed. A city that can adapt to be safe from floods must be carefully designed. How best to design such an adaptive city?

Critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and evacuation routes, must be accessible at all times. Planning how to best protect them, homes and lives is complex. Flood water behaves in a complex way and flood risks show strong spatial variations. The IMPETUS Atlantic team is developing a digital tool to support regional decision making for adaptive city planning. 

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Energy and waste water

To become climate-neutral by 2050, climate mitigation* efforts are crucial in our strategy for how to deal with climate change. Reducing our energy consumption is a significant mitigation step. In the Netherlands, 15% of energy is consumed in the Rijnmond area around the port of Rotterdam, in large part by a major petrochemical industry cluster.

*Climate mitigation encompasses measures such as technologies, processes, or practices that reduce carbon emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.

Issue

The Rotterdam port petrochemical industry cluster is Europe’s largest. It consumes 70% of the Rijnmond region’s energy. A large part of this energy is wasted (64%, 203 petajoules). More than half of that energy is lost with wastewater. In addition, most energy processes within these industries rely on fossil fuels, which has a significant impact on the climate.

Energy use must be minimised and fossil fuels should be replaced by renewable sources if climate change is to be mitigated. Electrification of processes opens up the possibility to use more renewable energy and can greatly impact decarbonisation. Recovering wasted heat would significantly reduce energy consumption and is a first step towards a more circular industry. 

Supporting industries in a transition towards climate-neutrality depends on identifying how best to reduce their carbon footprint without sacrificing production or performance. The IMPETUS Atlantic team is creating a digital tool that supports decision making about pathways towards an effective energy transition for EU industry.