Climate Risks for Infrastructure in Deltas

28 November - 2 December 2022

Venue: Lorentz Center@Snellius

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The exacerbating consequences of climate change require policymakers to continuously evaluate existing policies and strategies in order to avoid unacceptable risks for society. These evaluations could either lead to adapting current strategies to the changing environment, or to finding (institutional) instruments to better deal with such risks. Flood barriers, rail- and road embankments, subsurface pipe networks for water supply, and sewer and gas networks can be heavily affected by droughts and floods, sea-level changes, and atmospheric variability. It is particularly relevant to understand and address the risks to this so-called ‘critical infrastructure’, as it is vital for the functioning of society and for the protection of the environment. That is not an easy task for policymaking. Think of the challenge of dealing with subsidence in Bangkok, where the policy decision is whether or not to reduce the production of groundwater and/or whether to invest in protection of the subsiding land against the rising sea level. Or the question whether the ‘monster-infrastructure’ of the mobile barriers placed on the bottom of the Venetian lagoon for preventing the phenomenon of high-tide on Venice (the so-called M.O.S.E) is sufficient when sea level rise will increase.

Challenges of decision-making on climate risks for infrastructure in deltas are twofold. Firstly, a scientific challenge: i.e. it requires operationalizing risk assessment methods and translating their outputs into sustainable interventions, under various types of uncertainty. Secondly, a policy challenge: i.e. it requires anticipating implications of such interventions on a wide range of issues, varying from future human-technology interactions to social equity distributions and broad welfare, and incorporating new information into adaptation strategies. This workshop aims to address these two challenges by integrating an interdisciplinary perspective on climate risk assessment with the transdisciplinary practice of critical infrastructure design and management.

For better understanding of future risks and assessing future scenarios, we need to have a profound understanding of many issues, which requires a collaborative learning process that strengthens the generation of transdisciplinary knowledge. In this workshop, this transdisciplinary ambition will encompass the engineering sciences, the social sciences and the humanities and will include key stakeholders and policymakers active in the broad fields of climate adaptation and urban delta management. All participants will be engaged in a reasoned discussion on existing climate risk assessment methods and will be invited to identify rationale and limitations and address the operationalization of such methods for policy-making purposes.

The workshop will aim at jointly, with all participants, formulating which innovations would be needed for climate risk assessment methods (an agenda for “Policy-informed assessment tools for climate risks for infrastructures in Deltas”). The goal is to formulate a research agenda for these tools, which should bring them closer to the actual world of policymaking.

  • Day 1: Firstly, we will focus on the notion of risk and climate risk and particularly what climate risk entails in the context of infrastructure in deltas. We will first take stock of existing approaches to risk which are mostly disciplinary bound, including decision support, governance under uncertainty, probabilistic risk assessments, digital twin, early warning systems and visual analytics.
  • Day 2: Reviewing existing tools and their potential shortcomings. This day will enable reflection on and discussion of the most commonly used climate risk assessment frameworks. Participants will be invited to reflect on their accessibility and applicability for the formulation of prevention and adaptation policies. The discussion will focus in particular on what these frameworks ‘do’ and ‘do not deliver’ to policymakers and urban planners confronted with complex decisions relevant to vulnerable urban deltas.
  • Day 3: On this day, we will engage with stakeholders to discuss the demands from the (national, regional, and international) policymakers. We choose to engage with stakeholders in the middle of the week and not towards the end of the week so that we incorporate the input from the stakeholders in the rest of the workshop. This day will help set the tasks for day 4.

  • Day 4: How can the existing tools help respond to policy demands (how they should be adjusted, amended, combined etc.) On this day, the topics addressed in the previous days will be related to each other and the question is addressed what adjustments are needed in the tools to help them respond to policy demands.

  • Day 5: On this synthesis day, we propose a research agenda for better and more comprehensive tools and methods for assessing and governing climate risks in Deltas. We will do this by reviewing the shortcoming of the methods, both from a scientific/engineering point of view (Day 2) and from a policy point of view (Day 4).

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