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"Empowering society in adapting to a new reality is a key factor in our ability to deal with the rapid changes"

It is clear that climate change calls for action. But taking action is not only a matter of introducing new solutions to minimise its effects. Empowering society in adapting to a new reality is a key factor in our ability to deal with the rapid changes we are facing, says prof. dr. Tatiana Filatova, who held her inaugural lecture today.

Sense of urgency

The Davos Global Risks Report calls the 2020s the ‘Decade of Resilience’. The top five global risks they have now identified, are all related to climate change. Filatova: “It underlines the urgency, as it is the first time all of them have such a strong link to it. The list always used to contain a mix of domains, with topics like financial crisis, epidemics or cyber security.”

Adapting to change

Our society has always been adapting to change, but the speed at which change is coming at the moment is unprecedented. Filatova: “Given the fact that our world is getting more and more urbanised, this is getting harder by investing in. We truly need to invest in the capacity our systems to absorb the pressures that come with climate change, while societies learn, communities adapt and self-reorganise to keep the critical functions running.”

Filatova questions whether current policy making is effective enough to deal with climate change appropriately. “The big question is: can society deliver? And in that, it is all about the choices we make: what do we want? In social sciences, we do a lot of research on why people make the decisions they make. Very often, this is done through running a survey or a lab experiment. But in some way, it doesn’t find its way into policy making: it relies on formal and rational models, hindering the use of knowledge on behavioural aspects such as biased risk perceptions or social amplification of risk. Our ERC-funded team seeks to include aspects of learning adaptation and self-organisation. To make these social sciences insights usable in formal models we are introducing computer simulations that capture complexity of how people make decisions, such as agent-based modelling.”

Flexible over robust

The need for bringing computational modelling into social sciences is crucial to the understanding of how effects of climate change impact different societal groups and to prepare better. “In dealing with the climate change crisis, there has always been a large focus on physical infrastructure and on making our systems more robust by minimising probabilities. We are in the paradigm shift today: climate-resilient development also requires constant learning, adapting and self-organizing. Our society is stronger when we are also capable to be flexible when adverse events do occur or when a transformational change in climate change mitigation or adaptation efforts is required.”

Filatova leads the 4TU Strategic Research Program on Resilience that unites 18 new Tenure Trackers and over 40 senior academics across 13 faculties in the Netherlands in realising this paradigm shift. “It requires expertise from across the disciplines – the Team Science that links engineering to social and environmental sciences. Working together with the four Dutch technical universities and partners from practice provides a unique opportunity to develop methods that society could truly benefit from.”

L.P.W. van der Velde (Laurens)
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