Sustainable Peatlands NL

Over the past millennium the Dutch coastal peatlands have faced drastic rates of land subsidence with associated high CO2 emission rates accelerated by recent drought episodes, high cost on infrastructure and building restoration, safety risks of flooding, salinization of surface- and groundwater, and biodiversity loss.

An increasing number of people and economic assets are exposed to subsidence and its negative consequences and flood risk and greenhouse gas emissions are increasing. In some areas tipping points have already been reached, where current land-use can no longer be maintained without considerable costs, underlining the urgency to take action.

In addition, The Netherlands needs to cut down the emission of nitrogen and greenhouse gasses due to its obligations under international and EU law and is facing the extensive task to build ~1 million houses before 2035.
In view of these societal challenges and stressors and coping with them in an efficient and sustainable way, large transitions in land use are needed within a very short time frame. However, making these transitions is challenging as cultural, biophysical and socio-economical dimensions limit the solution space and the 
solution timeframe. This calls for not only innovation, but also for a shift in the social-economic and legal 
framework governing the ‘use’ and wellbeing of peatlands.

As demonstrated by the farmers protests against the limitation of nitrogen emissions, the current system offers limited solution opportunities, leading to great resistance from various societal groups. A more fundamental transformation is urgently needed, a solution pathway that is co-designed with stakeholders to reduce resistance to change.

The development of pathways involves the combined expertise from many disciplines ranging from physical and human geography to biology, economics, (cultural) history, governance, spatial planning, law, and behavioral sciences. It also requires applied scientific and practical knowledge from researchers, policy makers and stakeholders.

To accelerate pathway design, this project aims to come up with short-term no-regret measures (small wins) and design pathways to sustainable peatlands in the Utrecht-South-Holland peatland area.

The incubator phase will be designed as a three-step process, as outlined below;

  1. Creative environment (atelier) where stakeholders and researchers together design future (extreme) end members of the peatland area in words and images (prototypes, poems, paintings, stories) in separate teams and will present their work. Future scenarios should be developed in conjunction with other challenges related; nitrogen, water quality, space scarcity and energy. 
  2. The group will split into two, both groups will start the day with a field visit to a case study area guided by local experts from municipalities and water authorities to define the starting point. In the afternoon the researchers and stakeholders will design pathways towards an optimal sustainable local solution (earlier defined end member scenario(s)). The teams work together with officials from local municipalities, water authorities etc. The focus will be on area-specific challenges, solutions and pathways.
  3. The solutions are brought into the serious game REPEAT so that pathways can be optimized in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, land subsidence, costs and consequences for biodiversity. Questions of governance, economic models and adapted legal frameworks will also be considered. Critical obstacles to change will be identified, as these define the solution space. The results of this session will be used to select endmembers, (ideal-)pathways, and identify critical obstacles and areas to focus on going forward.