Building Climate Resilience: Lessons from the 2021 Floods in Western Europe

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United Nations University
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In July 2021, the Rhine-Meuse region straddling Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands was affected by devastating floods that have led to the loss of more than 240 lives and damage worth billions of Euros.

The event was closely watched by regional agencies that had to organize response and recovery, and also received noticeable global attention. Diverse sets of responses and reflections accumulated among researchers, local and regional governments, local and international media, development organizations, public offices and citizen groups, wherein links to climate change and gaps in our preparedness for unexpected, extreme events were a common element of the discourse.

In response to the floods, and in recognition of the cross-border effects of climate change, the United Nations University institutes in Belgium (UNU-CRIS), Germany (UNU-EHS) and the Netherlands (UNU-MERIT) have launched the “UNU Climate Resilience Initiative” with the aim to share knowledge, shape policy and drive action – and ultimately shift the focus from risk to proactive adaptation, innovation and transformation. Within the context of this initiative, researchers from the three institutes have conducted research in the flood-affected areas and organized the two-day “Flood Knowledge Summit 2022: From Risks to Resilience”, which took place from 7 to 8 July 2022 in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

Complementing existing national initiatives and efforts in the three countries, the event aimed to connect different actors – including affected citizens, first responders, authorities, researchers and civil society – from the region, the European Union (EU) and the Global South to share experiences, engage in dialogue and facilitate learning regarding how to strengthen climate resilience for all. This summit served to map various efforts to understand the data, information, governance and knowledge gaps at national, subnational and regional levels in order to address growing risks of climate change, including how to adapt to not only climate-induced extreme events like floods but also other hazard events, and created a regional momentum to support multidimensional efforts towards building resilience.

Drawing on our research and outcomes of the Flood Knowledge Summit 2022, the UNU Climate Resilience Initiative has identified five key areas in which further research and action is needed to tackle climate risks and facilitate pathways towards climate resilience.

Climate resilience, Flood risks, Preparedness, Emergency response, Recovery, Building back better