Dr. ir. Dries Hegger

Assistant Professor
Environmental Governance
Environmental Governance

Education focused on knowledge for sustainability

I teach within the Bachelor’s Global Sustainability Science and the Master’s Sustainable Development. Students from various other backgrounds follow my courses as well, including Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS), Human Geography; Anthropology. I feel a ‘click’ with ‘my’ students because they have the ambition to build bridges: between disciplines; between theory and practice. It is my ambition to teach students to approach sustainability issues in a critical and scientifically informed way. But at the same time, I hope to encourage students to bring complex issues back to their core and make findings and recommendations more end-user friendly. I am involved in BSc and MSc level courses, including Policy Evaluation and Design (2nd-year bachelor); Sustainable Land Use (3rd-year bachelor), Bachelor thesis Global Sustainability Science (supervisor); Master thesis Sustainable Development (supervisor); Research Design (Masters).

Current teaching activities

I enjoy stimulating students and young researchers in their academic and personal development. It is great to see students grow in their self-confidence and ability to think critically and independently and set up and carry out their own research.

My teaching experience includes the following courses (amongst others):

- Bachelor thesis supervision

- Sustainable Land Use (Bachelor's 3)

- Policy Evaluation and Design (Bachelor's 2)

- MSc thesis supervision 

- Research Design (Master's)

- Foundations of Social Science for Sustainable Development (Bachelor 1)

- Tailor-made courses Sustainable Development (Masters)

- LAS/Utalent theses

- Governance for Sustainable Development: theories (Masters)

Master thesis topics that I would like to explore with students

In the academic year 2022-2023 I have space to supervise five Master's theses in the field of regional water and climate governance, all within the Sustainable Development Master's (track: Earth System Governance). Topics that I would like to explore with students are the following:

Water Energy Food Ecosystems Nexus Policy Coherence

The Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem Nexus (WEFE Nexus) approach aims to foster cross-sectoral governance. The latter implies that all Nexus domains (water, energy, food, and ecosystem) are equally represented, and the activities in one domain do not have negative consequences in the other domains. Policy coherence is one of the critical aspects of WEFE nexus governance, and a lack thereof is one of the main challenges in the transition toward more nexus oriented governance. Current policies are often very sectorally organised. They target one nexus domain – water, energy, food, ecosystems, or even a tiny part of a specific problem, without considering the unintended consequences of these policies on other nexus domains. For example, policies fostering the development of new energy infrastructure do not consider water pollution from construction. Policy coherence is often measured on paper and not in practice. Under this research topic, the student will assess the policy coherence of one of the transboundary river basin case studies currently under investigation within the H2020 NEXOGENESIS project. The assessment will be conducted using a dedicated assessment framework, for instance, the Nilsson et al. 2012 framework, in collaboration with the local project partners. It will include validation with local stakeholders of coherence both on paper and in practice. All case studies are international. Therefore, besides English, proficiency in one of the local languages is preferred: Greek, Bulgarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian or Italian.

This thesis will take the form of an internship at KWR Water Research institute. If the timing of the internship allows it, travelling to the project case studies might be part of the internship.

Research uptake for marine conservation (Dr Frank van Laerhoven/Dr Dries Hegger)

UU’s Environmental Governance section is involved in the SEALINK project, an interdisciplinary endeavour to assess how land-derived and waterborne inputs affect the growth and survival of coral reefs in the Dutch Caribbean (https://www.sealinkcaribbean.net/). In September 2021, a PhD project started, focusing on research uptake for marine conservation from a decolonial perspective. Both Frank van Laerhoven and Dries Hegger are involved in this project as supervisors. Because the uptake of research findings does not occur automatically, this project will specifically identify strategies that maximise the use of the scientific conclusions in complex, environmental decision-making contexts. In spring 2021, several students of the SD-ESG track have done crucial preparatory work for this project, including i) conducting a thorough literature review of approaches and schools of thought relevant for research uptake; ii) developing a comprehensive inventory of NGOs working on Marine Conservation, and their affinity with scientific knowledge; iii) an initial exploration of potential science-policy interaction problems on the Caribbean Island of Curaçao, the core focus of the project; and iv) an exploration of the potential role of visualisations and rhetoric in research uptake. This work has been expanded over the last year through three MSc dissertations which involved i) mapping the stakeholders related to wastewater management on Curaçao; ii) uncovering the interactions between NGOs and scientific researchers working on marine conservation in the Caribbean, and iii) conducting an audience analysis for marine science communication on Curaçao. As a Master’s student, you are invited to conduct thesis research that is closely connected and relevant to the SEALINK project. Together with you and the PhD candidate on the project, Danick Trouwloon, we will explore ways to create synergy. There are various possible ways to delineate your project depending on your interests. Each of the sub-topics listed above deserves to be unpacked further, or maybe you can think of relevant topics that we haven’t thought of before. There is also room to discuss the geographical focus of the project. You may want to focus on Curaçao or marine conservation elsewhere on the globe. As the above has made abundantly clear, for this particular Master thesis topic, we are looking for someone into team science! Either Frank or Dries, one of us, will be your primary supervisor based on your preference, your envisaged scope for your research, and our capacity.

Coastal resilience: an integrated coastal zone governance perspective (Dr Dries Hegger)

Over one-third of Europeans live in cities and settlements within 50 km of the coast. Damage resulting from coastal flooding in Europe is estimated at €1.25 billion per year, with 102,000 people affected annually. Accelerating sea-level rise could increase the number of people potentially affected by flooding to 4.7 million (RCP2.6 scenario) or 9.6 million (RCP8.5 scenario) by 2080. Unless there is an investment in adaptation measures, by the 2080s, the associated annual expected costs of flood damage in Europe will have increased to €450 billion under the RCP2.6 scenario or €650 billion under RCP8.5. The same studies indicate that under high-end SLR scenarios, there will be massive migration from coastal areas in Europe (environmental displacement). Preparing for a climate-resilient future entails developing technical and engineering-based solutions and stimulating societal transformations towards a more resilience-oriented society. This requires the development of adaptive and transformative pathways. Insights on how to do this are present but are scattered over various bodies of literature and need to be more systematically applied and tested in different empirical geographical contexts. You can devote your master thesis to the study of coastal resilience. There are various ways to do this. In terms of your conceptual approach, amongst other approaches, you can focus on Integrated Coastal Zone Management, Climate Adaptation Planning, Urban Resilience, pathway methodology or a combination of these approaches. Empirically, different urban agglomerations inside and outside Europe are good candidates for lesson drawing. We can discuss together how to delineate the research.

Citizen-city interactions in the regional governance of climate adaptation (Dr Dries Hegger) 

The challenge of making cities resilient to various consequences of climate change, including drought, heat and pluvial flooding, is becoming increasingly pressing and urgent. In the past decade, local governments in multiple countries have become increasingly aware of this challenge. However, implementing spatial climate adaptation measures with the support and commitment of citizens is a pressing governance challenge. Various cities have reached the limits of small scale voluntary actions and are looking for mechanisms to make adaptation action less non-committal. At the same time, the question is how citizens can be more fully engaged in climate adaptation action, either through stimulating and facilitating citizen initiatives or through more formal participatory measures.

Below are some key research areas that require more systematic scholarly attention.

1. Which role is played by climate services – tools and approaches to translate climate projections into usable information? (Dr. Dries Hegger) 

2. What are the potential distributive effects and unjust outcomes of climate adaptation governance? (e.g. first findings about green climate gentrification have been documented in the literature (https://www.pnas.org/content/116/52/26139) (can also be supervised by Dr Heleen Mees) 

3. How does the urban politics of climate adaptation play out in reality? For instance, climate adaptation measures require scarce space. How do different stakeholder groups and interests compete for this scarce space? (Dr. Dries Hegger) 

Each of the issues mentioned above would constitute an exciting topic for a Master’s thesis on its own. There is room to discuss your conceptual scope (e.g. an urban resilience lens, an environmental justice lens, a governance capacities lens). We have several relevant network contacts and can advise you if you want to arrange an internship/research on location. These contacts include: several consultancies (e.g Tauw); several municipalities (e.g. Dordrecht, Amersfoort, Nieuwegein; Utrecht); actors within the Delta Programme Regional Adaptation in the Netherlands, the Dutch Union of Regional Water Authorities (Unie van Waterschappen).

Climate adaptation and health (Prof. Peter Driessen, Dr Heleen Mees, Dr Dries Hegger)

Climate change constitutes a significant health issue. A healthy climate-resilient city anticipates, is prepared for, and responds successfully to the impacts of climate change, including health impacts such as allergies and infectious diseases, heat stress and mental stress. However, studies that explicitly focus on climate adaptation and health interface are still scarce. Henceforth, there is a host of unanswered questions. A crucial one is what mix of climate adaptation measures is suitable in vulnerable neighbourhoods to protect and promote positive health, and how best to achieve these measures effectively and fairly? 

Peter Driessen, Heleen Mees and Dries Hegger have had discussions about the potential to look for synergies between two critical concepts. On the one hand, there is ‘climate resilience’, a concept from the environmental governance and climate adaptation domain. On the other hand, ‘positive health’ is a concept used in health promotion. By linking both concepts, we might develop novel visions and action perspectives that will create conditions under which citizens can self-manage their physical and mental well-being to the best of their abilities while contributing to overall climate resilience. 

We are looking for a Master’s student who wishes to explore the interface of climate adaptation and health together with us. You can opt for a more conceptual study of the two concepts, or a more empirical study, focusing on specific local or regional adaptation initiatives, for instance, in vulnerable neighbourhoods. Either Peter, Heleen or Dries, one of us, will be your primary supervisor based on your preference, your envisaged scope for your research, and our capacity.