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Flood risk mitigation in Europe: how far away are we from the aspired forms of adaptive governance?

Marie Fournier, Laboratoire Géomatique et Foncier, Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, Ecole Supérieure des Géomètres et Topographes
Corinne Larrue, Paris School of Planning, Lab'Urba, Paris Est University
Meghan Alexander, Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
Dries Hegger, Environmental Governance, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University
Marloes Bakker, Environmental Governance, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University
Maria Pettersson, Department of Business Administration, Technology and Social Sciences, Luleå University of Technology
Ann Crabbé, Research Group Society and Environment, University of Antwerp
Hannelore Mees, Research Group Society and Environment, University of Antwerp
Adam Chorynski, Institute for Agricultural and Forest Environment, Polish Academy of Sciences


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Flood mitigation is a strategy that is growing in importance across Europe. This growth corresponds with an increasing emphasis on the need to learn to live with floods and make space for water. Flood mitigation measures aim at reducing the likelihood and magnitude of flooding and complement flood defenses. They are being put in place through the implementation of actions that accommodate (rather than resist) water, such as natural flood management or adapted housing. The strategy has gained momentum over the past 20 years in an effort to improve the sustainability of flood risk management (FRM) and facilitate the diversification of FRM in the pursuit of societal resilience to flooding. Simultaneously, it is increasingly argued that adaptive forms of governance are best placed to address the uncertainty and complexity associated with social-ecological systems responding to environmental challenges, such as flooding. However, there have been few attempts to examine the extent to which current flood risk governance, and flood mitigation specifically, reflect these aspired forms of adaptive governance. Drawing from EU research into flood risk governance, conducted within the STAR-FLOOD project, we examine the governance of flood mitigation in six European countries: Belgium, England, France, the Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden. Using in-depth policy and legal analysis, as well as interviews with key actors, the governance and implementation of flood mitigation in these countries is evaluated from the normative viewpoint of whether, and to what extent, it can be characterized as adaptive governance. We identify five criteria of adaptive governance based on a comprehensive literature review and apply these to each country to determine the “distance” between current governance arrangements and adaptive governance. In conclusion, the flood mitigation strategy provides various opportunities for actors to further pursue forms of adaptive governance. The extent to which the mitigation strategy is capable of doing so varies across countries, however, and its role in stimulating adaptive governance was found to be strongest in Belgium and England.

Key words

adaptive governance; climate change; country comparison; European Union; flood; mitigation; risk

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087