Turning the Tide

Inverting Ecosystem Service Assessment as a Planning and Design Instrument for Decision-Makers to Develop Sustainable Eco-Based Solutions in an Uncertain Region

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The manipulation of the delta landscape in the Rotterdam region, to meet the economic desire of society, resulted in a degradation of ecosystem services. Each eco-based design, such as the case-study ‘the River as a Tidal Park’, is subjected to a wide range of environmental, societal and political risks. Considering the extremely uncertain projected risks for increasing sea levels and more extreme river discharges after 2050, the river does not provide the flexibility the future demands. After the implementation of relatively short term and local scale initiatives the projects are still subjected to these uncertainties, which makes the long-term values uncertain as well. Therefore, it might result in a loss of capital for partners as the project appears to be unsustainable. Accordingly, the thesis aims for ensuring the project provides the desired ecosystem services for 2100 and costs and benefits are distributed more evenly among stakeholders through time and space. To bridge the gap between time and space, the thesis considers the concept of seeing and working with “Nature as a New Economy’ as a starting point. This concept focuses on the development, preservation and regeneration of nature to obtain most values from it. The thesis approaches two scenarios for 2100. The Rest Scenario considers moderate climate change and socio-economic decline and the Steam Scenario investigates extreme climate change and socio-economic growth. The research follows in a search for value synergies among both scenarios to find ‘no regret’ measures for the short term. To guide decision-makers in the process between short term investments and long term needs, an adaptive framework is developed. This framework provides guidelines to take action when specific tipping points in time are reached. The hypothesis is to what extend the value of ecosystem services can be inverted in time to use it as a design instrument in relation to decision-making processes. The research question which leads the thesis is: "How can the concept of ‘Nature as a New Economy’ be used for the development of an adaptive design for the spatial transformation of the fluvial zone of the Nieuwe Maas considering the uncertain future?" The thesis’ results show that, with the proposed adaptive design, most ecosystem services increase through time. This results in increasing interest and a model of revenue for stakeholders, which makes sure that the project can be extended until 2100. The concept of ‘Nature as a New Economy’ is providing decision-makers with a language to give insight in the benefits for them on the long term, is increasing the financial support for the project and will reduce the risks for future generations. It makes decision-makers aware of the value of nature and that it could go beyond economic growth. It can be seen as an inversion of the concept of nature: nature is no longer seen as something we have to fight against to strive for economic growth. Nature can now be seen as an economy itself which is the new value for producing economic growth.