On 28 February 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its most worrying report. The report underscores the impact of climate-induced shocks on cities, people, and nature while stressing the crucial need for cross-border cooperation. In recognition of the multifaceted effects of the climate emergency witnessed during the 2021 floods in Europe, the UNU Climate Resilience Initiative (CRI) was conceptualised in August 2021 and officially launched on 8 February 2022. The virtual launch featured remarks and reflections by policy representatives and researchers on the need for cross-border collaboration to address the increasing climate risks, risk perceptions, and adaptation and transformation needs associated with climate-induced extreme weather events.
From Europe to Asia – the dramatic consequences of the climate emergency are being witnessed worldwide. July 2021 saw catastrophic floods across several European countries, including Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The devastating impacts of the floods revealed significant gaps in understanding the climate crisis. They reiterated the urgent need for proactive adaptation, innovation, and transformation towards climate-resilient development. This urgency is echoed in the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released on 28 February 2022. Said to be the most worrying yet, the IPCC report underscores the impact of climate-induced shocks on cities, people, and nature while stressing the crucial need for cross-border cooperation. “This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt, and nature responds to increasing climate risks.” Against this background, and in recognition of the multifaceted effects of the climate emergency, the United Nations University (UNU) institutes in Bruges, Belgium (UNU-CRIS), Bonn, Germany (UNU-EHS), and Maastricht, the Netherlands (UNU-MERIT) launched the UNU Climate Resilience Initiative (UNU CRI) on 8 February 2022.
The Initiative is a joint response by the three institutes to address the increasing risks and transformation needs associated with extreme climate events. Conceptualised in August 2021 and now composed of more than 50 researchers from UNU-CRIS, UNU-EHS and UNU-MERIT, the Initiative seeks to identify critical knowledge gaps, foster collaboration, and develop a comprehensive research agenda to inform climate policy at the local, regional, and international levels. The virtual launch attended by nearly 130 participants and stakeholders from across 20 countries, including researchers, policymakers, youth networks, disaster risk management agencies and students, also highlighted the various work packages and outputs by the project coordination team members. Moderated by Keith Burnet, Senior Communications Advisor (UNU-MERIT), the launch comprised inputs by policy representatives from Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, who highlighted the repercussions and the on-ground measures mobilised in the aftermath of the 2021 floods in their respective regions.
In remarks shared by a representative, Ms Petra Berkner, (Directorate-General for European and International Cooperation in Education and Research, Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Germany) said:
“Last summer, we experienced climate change right at our doorstep – our colleagues and their homes were personally affected by the floods in Europe. This brutal catastrophe has revealed just how vulnerable we are to climate change and that it is time to act. That’s why the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), has decided to fund several projects that support local communities in building back better – at the national and international levels. The UNU CRI is an ideal platform for the international linkages. Together we can and we must learn from the experiences of local and global partners.”
Describing the events in the Limburg region of the Netherlands, Mr Patrick van der Broeck (Chair, Water Board in Limburg, the Netherlands) added:
“July 2021 was an incredible storm; historical amounts of water came together in 24 hours. The result created an alarming crisis for the region of Limburg – 600 businesses and 2500 homes suffered extreme damage and there are many people who still haven’t been able to return to their homes. At the peak, some 50,000 people were evacuated, and the damage mounts up to a staggering 1.8 billion euro. That is why I seek support and collaboration from regional and international partners, so we can be better prepared for such events in the future.”
“We realise that it is no longer climate change, but a climate emergency,” stated Mr Bernard Mazijn (Chief of Cabinet of the Federal Minister for Climate, the Environment, Sustainable Development and the Green Deal, Belgium) as he highlighted the OCAM Climate body formulated by the Government of Belgium in 2021. With the core objective of analysing and assessing climate-induced risks, OCAM Climate will provide timely recommendations on mitigation, adaptation measures and loss and damage policy while also strengthening multi-level climate governance in Belgium.”
Following the insights from the policy representatives, researchers from the three UNU institutes underscored the need to build back better so communities are equipped to co-exist with the extreme-yet-inevitable implications of climate-induced shocks. Dr Michael Hagenlocher (UNU-EHS), Dr Nidhi Nagabhatla (UNU-CRIS) and Dr Sanae Okamoto (UNU-MERIT) stressed the significance of learning from past events and fostering knowledge exchange to shape policy and drive climate action. Explaining the scope and aims of UNU CRI, the researchers highlighted six critical areas of focus: (1) understanding vulnerabilities, risks, and impacts; (2) individual and community preparedness and responses; (3) emergency response and coordination; (4) insurance markets; (5) multi-level governance; and (6) innovation, adaption, and sustainable transformation.
Finally, the Directors of the three UNU institutes in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands reflected on the context, timeliness, and relevance of this Initiative.
Elaborating upon the multi-dimensional nature of the Initiative, Prof. Dr Shen Xiaomeng (Director, UNU-EHS) remarked:
“The core of this project is mutual support, collaboration, and solidarity – and that’s exactly what our world needs right now. We are using a powerful, positive narrative to support the affected countries in recovering and rebuilding in a better manner. This one-of-a-kind, intensive collaboration among UNU institutes combines not just researchers but also creates a platform for students to develop in a diverse setup – making the UNU CRI a powerful mix of education, knowledge, research and hopefully, – fun.
Prof. Dr Philippe De Lombaerde (Director, UNU-CRIS) highlighted the timeliness of initiatives like the CRI.
“In July 2021 the multifaceted impacts of flooding in the transboundary region between Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands on people and their homes and communities, economy, and infrastructure highlighted the need to boost cooperation and coordination in different institutions, agencies, and stakeholders in supranational to subnational settings. The dramatic consequences and high human costs oblige us to draw lessons from this event for future policy-making and institutional designs”
The significance of cross-border collaboration on climate resilience was underlined in Prof. Dr Bartel Van de Walle (Director, UNU-MERIT). He said:
“The tremendous floods in Europe last year proved that the climate emergency isn’t a single country’s problem – it is a shared crisis that demands shared solutions. But this isn’t the first time we are seeing something like this. The dangerous impacts of climate shocks have been unfolding across the world, including the Global South. That is why, the aim of this initiative is to not just assess last year’s events in Europe but also learn from the expertise, approaches and solutions of regions that have been coping with similar shocks for many years. Through this initiative we really aim to listen to the research findings from these regions.”
The launch event concluded by highlighting that while the state of knowledge and science on the climate emergency is consistently evolving, there are significant gaps in understanding a crisis unfolding right before our eyes. It also reaffirmed that the alarming implications of the climate crisis necessitate the need to connect and activate platforms like the CRI (and the associated Flood Knowledge Summit 2022, which will be organised as a hybrid event on 6-8 July 2022, with a physical programme in Maastricht, The Netherlands) aimed at exchanging ideas, shaping policy, and driving action towards a climate-resilient future.