by Thijs Visser
September 10, 2019
Thijs Visser is a water system specialist. He is an advisor, among others, on the climate issue: What do the years ahead have in store for us, and how can we prepare ourselves for it? Every month he invites us to accompany him in his advisory work and, as a blogger, shares his experiences with visitors to the Dareius website.
Climate change has become a news item. It’s all over the newspapers and, when asked, everybody has something to say about it. The question often concerns how we should or can adapt to climate change. The stress test is a new tool in meeting the challenge.
The last few years have seen a growing demand for an integrated approach to climate adaptation in the Netherlands. The Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation (DPRA) is one of the spearhead programmes in this context. The different levels of government work together within the programme on raising societal awareness, and on organising and adapting the working and living environment. The approach focuses on inventorying, mitigating and sometimes also accepting the consequences of climate change. In this way the Netherlands is being made climate-proof, societally as well as spatially. Within this framework, working with various government authorities and regional partnerships, I have been allowed to conduct numerous climate stress tests.
What is a climate stress test, actually?
A climate stress test sheds light on the consequences of climate change for a specific area. Climate change of course affects a variety of sectors and professional activities, which means that the conduct of a climate stress test involves teamwork. Our aim, besides achieving a deeper understanding, is essentially to create support within an organisation so that the outcomes of the climate stress test will strike home and become anchored in the organisation’s daily practices. A deeper understanding of the consequences of climate change demands knowledge sharing. This is why, in the conduct of the climate stress test, we facilitate a well-informed dialogue between area specialists who have different substantive backgrounds.
To provide an insight into the dimension of the climate issue, I make use of the circle diagrams of the National Climate Adaptation Strategy (NAS). The circle diagrams sketch the dimension of the climate issue by distinguishing between ‘climate trends’, ‘climate impacts’ and ‘consequences for sectors’ (‘climate consequences’). In the future, the Netherlands will be hotter, wetter, drier and sea levels will be higher. As a consequence, extreme weather conditions are becoming more frequent and we are observing changes in surface water quality and area discharges. These climate impacts have consequences for different sectors and user functions, such as changes in the hydrology of nature areas, a reduced availability of freshwater, but also a greater exposure to water-borne infectious diseases. Based on the circle diagrams we see climate change as four climate trends, with about 20 potential climate impacts and more than 100 (!) potential climate consequences.
The abundance of potential climate consequences can be paralysing. The frameworks within which the stress tests are conducted must therefore be clearly formulated. The filtering of those climate consequences that one can have an influence upon, helps give a purpose and direction in the elaboration of the climate stress test. By focussing on climate consequences that are concrete and susceptible to influence, the associated risks are rendered manageable. This is crucial for the conduct of a climate stress test. It contributes to raising awareness of the consequence of climate change, and offers an action perspective with regard to what an organisation can do to mitigate undesirable climate consequences. The well-founded filtering of information is therefore a necessary step in determining the essence of the climate challenge for an organisation.
Stress tests for the future
Climate change has widespread societal consequences. Everyone is concerned. The conduct of a climate stress test for an organisation that has a specific responsibility and task, such as a municipality or a Water Authority, involves a specific implementation context. As a result, a climate stress test creates an understanding of a sub-problem. It can therefore be seen as a piece in the national ‘climate puzzle’.
The conduct of a climate stress test thus serves two objectives. By making an inventory of the entire issue at the start of the process and then, after the test’s implementation, by returning to the inventory, the participants become aware of the fact that climate adaptation represents a societal, and frequently national, challenge. But the climate stress test also places an emphasis on the action perspective in terms of the participant’s own responsibilities and tasks. This provides a good foundation for the conduct of the risk dialogue and for setting up the implementation programme.
It is important to continually test the system against new scientific and policy insights. In this way, the stress test can be applied in order to look into the future and, if necessary, to adjust the action perspective. I hope above all else that we can successfully complete the national climate puzzle. In any event, we are today adding a small piece to the puzzle with every stress test we carry out.