How to increase the role of the citizen?

Climate adaptation: complex and unknown

Climate Adaptation. People do not really know what it means, which makes it more difficult for them to really get started on it. For municipalities, who are trying to engage their residents in this issue, that poses a major challenge. The HZ research group Resilient Deltas - in collaboration with other universities of applied sciences, municipalities, and water boards - conducted research into citizen participation in climate adaptation. And that offered multiple insights, says Jean-Marie Buijs, Senior Researcher and Coordinator: “Municipalities need to set the right and green example, joining forces with the residents and not underestimate the consequences of heat.”

Petra de Nooijer, editor HZ Discovery

Climate change in the Netherlands results in more intense rainfall, longer periods of drought, and higher temperatures. The acceptable levels for safety, health, and wellbeing of people are thereby exceeded more and more frequently. “How are we dealing with the risks and consequences of flooding, heat, and drought? That is the question climate adaptation evolves around,” Jean-Marie Buijs tells us. According to him, we cannot get around it: “Initiatives to combat global warming alone will not be enough. We will need to combine mitigation with adaptation.”

Water Robust and Climate Proof

In the Delta Plan Spatial Adaptation it has been agreed that the Netherlands shall be water robust and climate proof in 2050. But there are many and major questions among municipalities, Buijs knows: “They want to know: what does that mean? How do we do that and how do we engage residents in it?” The goal of the research: developing a practically applicable working method for ‘citizen participation in climate adaptation’. When we say climate adaptation, we often think of strengthening dikes and widening rivers. But green measures in cities and villages are equally good examples of climate adaptation. More green and less concrete and stone in the city, for example, can help reduce the so-called ‘heat-island effect’.

Setting a Good Example

“Climate adaptation is not an often-discussed topic among residents,” Jean-Marie Buijs concludes. “Topics like health and habitability in the area are often more on the foreground than extreme weather. That means that governments must show what residents can actually do in and around their homes, gardens, and local areas to improve the situation with a view to climate change. And they need to set a good example, through policy aimed at more green and less concrete.” After the Dutch Championship ‘Tile Flipping’, you would hope to conclude that climate adaptation awareness has increased among citizens? Buijs laughs: “Yes, events like that can definitely stimulate a social standard. Very interesting to see, because our research shows that a good example can help other residents to get involved.” And yet, in that respect there is still a lot to gain according to Buijs.


The study took an in-depth look at heat as a problem. Jean-Marie Buijs explains why: “When it comes to climate adaptation, governments still tend to focus quite strongly on the Dutch ‘Water Management Tradition’. But flooding is a far better known risk; there are uncertainties, but we know where the bottlenecks are and how they can be dealt with. Heat is a less known problem. That makes it interesting to look at more in-depth.” The research provides recommendations about how governments can give implementation to climate adaptation in collaboration with residents. Buijs is seeing that residents have a tendency to put the ball in the municipalities court. “While they say: well yes, but we can’t do it on our own. We do not have control of all land. Contributions from residents are very much needed.” Citizens are at first instance not very interested in climate adaptation plans but, according to Buijs, municipalities are starting to engage the residents when they take a wider approach at the initiative. “Our advice to municipalities: try to find links to existing citizen initiatives, for example for making the district greener and more habitable. And if there are no such initiatives, then look into other aspects that residents worry about or where they see opportunities.”

No budget

Simultaneously, citizens who do take the initiative are sometimes running into remarkable restrictions. Buijs: “As long as tenants are told by housing corporations that there is no budget for sun protection, but there is a budget for increasing sustainability with a view to the energy transition, something is askew. Well-insulated homes retain heat for longer; by installing (exterior) sun protection, the heat increase can be reduced. In this case, that is a better solution than air conditioning, which uses a lot of energy. In that respect, a lot of benefit can be gained from linking increased sustainability to climate adaptation.” The results of the study have confirmed the so-called ‘heat-island effect’ for many districts. During the heat wave of 2020, the temperature was monitored in approximately 100 homes in the Netherlands. The experience of the residents was mapped, to better understand the impact of heat on people. “It is now clear that urban areas get hotter and retain a lot more heat than the surrounding area, especially at night. The discomfort of those hotter nights is very apparent in the perception study.” “We also showed what heat does in various types of homes. Newer and older homes, rented and purchased homes. But also on different floors. In addition, the energy label, insulation, ventilation, and the use of sun protection are very significant factors for the interior temperature.” This is relevant information for the development of new guidelines for the built-up environment. It is not just about adaptations to the home but also the surrounding district. With the developed knowledge, a municipality can take measures as needed to improve green areas and provide sufficient shadow spaces in districts. “It is useful to link this to initiatives from within the district, but also for the municipality to take charge where needed.”


Buijs looks back on informative experiences in the large-scale study. “The collaboration between universities of applied sciences was intensive and the corona pandemic made studies into participation into a very particular task. Still, we managed to find relevant solutions to these problems and the study has provided good insights. Moreover, the participation question continues to offer us many challenges for future research, such as into the transition challenges in the area of rising sea levels, urban climate adaptation, and sustainable energy.” Klimaatverandering leidt in Nederland tot intensievere buien, langere perioden van droogte, en hogere temperaturen . De acceptatiegrenzen voor veiligheid, gezondheid en het welbevinden van mensen worden hierdoor steeds vaker overschreden. “Hoe gaan we om met de risico’s en gevolgen van wateroverlast, hitte en droogte? Dat is de vraag waar klimaatadaptatie om draait,” vertelt Jean-Marie Buijs. Volgens hem kunnen we er niet omheen: “Met alleen initiatieven om de opwarming van de aarde tegen te gaan, gaan we het niet redden. We zullen mitigatie moeten combineren met adaptatie.”

The research project Citizen Participation in Climate Adaptation was a collaboration of just over two years between four universities of applied sciences: HZ University of Applied Sciences, Hogeschool Rotterdam, Hogeschool Van Hall Larenstein, Hanzehogeschool Groningen; five municipalities: Vlissingen, Middelburg, Rotterdam, Leeuwarden, Groningen; and two water boards: Wetterskip Fryslân and Waterschap Noorderzijlvest. The 10 living labs consisted of geographically cordoned-off districts. The project was made possible by a RAAK Public grant from the Nationaal Regieorgaan Praktijkgericht Onderzoek SIA (Taskforce for Applied Research SIA). The full report can be found here. The research was coordinated out of the HZ by Teun Terpstra (lector), Jean-Marie Buijs (Senior Researcher and Coordinator), and Jasper van den Heuvel (Lecturer-Researcher) of the research group Resilient Deltas. Over 20 students participated in the minor Climate Adaptation (Fit for the Future) and within the HZ, there was collaboration with, among others, the programmes Water Management, ICT and Communication.