How do uncertainties impact the implementation of nature-based solutions for coastal adaptation?

Nature Based Solutions (NbS) are seen as a promising venue for coastal adaptation to climate change. Combining natural dynamics with technical solutions, NbS can be driven by unpredictable natural dynamics, unanticipated surprises, and changing external conditions. And as such, they involve fundamentally different uncertainties.

There are three main kinds of uncertainty: lack of knowledge, unpredictability, which refer to a deficit of knowledge about a system, and ambiguity.  Ambiguity is considered an uncertainty of a different kind, as it does not attend to how much, or how well, actors know a system, but to the different ways of knowing about it and of framing concerning issues.

These uncertainties are interrelated, influencing each other. So, the impact of a particular uncertainty may be created or enlarged through the cascading effects of other uncertainties. However, little is still known about the effects that these uncertainties concerning NbS function and effectiveness, considering both the positive and negative impacts that NbS may have in our society.

Marcela Brugnach, Ikerbasque Professor at BC3, together with Ronald van den Hoekwe, a researcher at Saxion University of Applied Sciences (Netherlands) have recently published a new study where they conduct an ex-post analysis of the uncertainties in two NbS cases: Sand Engine and Safety Buffer Oyster Dam BwN projects in The Netherlands, critically analyzing through the cascades of interrelated uncertainties framework, how uncertainties were addressed and proposing better fit supporting alternatives.

The most fundamental insight we find this project prompts is that embracing ambiguity in NbS offers the potential to generate more effective responses to new and uncertain shorescape conditions for the adaptation to climate change (Marcela Brugnach, Ikerbasque Professor at BC3)

Results also indicate the following major benefits of using the cascades of interrelated uncertainties in NbS, supporting the development and implementation of NbS: (1) The cascades of interrelated uncertainty framework improves uncertainty management; (2) recognizing uncertainty cascading effect opens more possibilities for intervention and uncertainty management, generating more flexibility in managing under unknown conditions; (3) the identification of ambiguity serves to anticipate conflicts and maladaptations; (4) it also provides opportunities for creating new supporting relationships and alternative solutions.

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María de Maeztu Excellence Unit 2023-2027 Ref. CEX2021-001201-M, funded by MCIN/AEI /10.13039/501100011033

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