Interview with Sophie van der Horst, adviser at Climate Adaptation Services

The REACHOUT series of interviews aims at collecting more personal views from colleagues developing and applying climate services for urban adaptation and resilient development, get more insight on the state of knowledge, the main ongoing discourse, and get a more concrete view of what their work encompasses. A sneak peek, so to say, behind the jargon and throbbing sentences used in policy documents and research proposals. Throughout the project, team members will complete a round of interviews. One colleague will interview another, and the interviewed colleague then conducts the following interview of the next team member and so on. As each member interviews and gets interviewed in this manner, all topics will be covered over the duration of this project. 

Read our latest interview featuring Sophie van der Horst, adviser at Climate Adaptation Services, interviewed by Ewa Janowska, Gdynia’s city liaison and coordinator at the Sendzimir Foundation in Warsaw, Poland.

Sophie: “Personally, I prefer powerful visuals over long texts.”

Hi Sophie, It was a pleasure to meet you and your CAS colleagues at the General Assembly in Milan. You all surprised us positively with your choice of transport. You travelled half of Europe by train to get to Italy. You swapped convenience to promote a more sustainable mode of transport. The Dutch have a high environmental awareness thanks to widespread education. Is there any action against climate change that you as Dutch are particularly proud of (apart from cycling, of course)?

Thanks, Ewa, it was great to see you! It was not only a more sustainable way of traveling, but definitely also more fun. We enjoyed beautiful landscapes, Basel at 6 am, and the picturesque Lugano. Quite an experience! The choice of traveling by train is not a coincidence because we travel a lot by public transport in the Netherlands, which is something I am quite proud of. We have an extensive train network and from the train stations the easy option to rent a bike for a day. Also, car rental options are becoming more popular.

As part of your work at CAS you have been to various places around the world. How do you assess the environmental awareness of the communities you work with? What are the biggest challenges for them in adapting to climate change? What can we learn from them?

Climate change is a huge challenge and difficult to tackle at once. In order to adapt, many different measures are needed across different sectors. For example, in Dhaka (Bangladesh), waste on the streets is a challenge. By improving waste management, the city becomes more attractive and less vulnerable to floods. We see more and more local initiatives, such as green roofs. These projects may seem small but together they can have a large impact. These initiatives are often supported by young and eager people with high ambitions on climate change.

Workshop work in the field is one thing. On the other hand, you work from behind a desk creating narrative maps that present climate projections. Tell us a bit about the workshop of your work, in particular working with data. I believe it is a big responsibility – to interpret and visualize the data so that you don’t make some kind of misrepresentation or manipulation. Tell us what this process looks like in an example. How did you learn and develop this skill?

I started working with data during my masters Climate studies at Wageningen University. Personally, I prefer powerful visuals over long texts. The recurring question in my work is: “What is the key message that we want to bring across?”. I believe that visuals are a great means to communicate complicated science to the broader public. Climate change can be a sensitive topic and it is therefore important to communicate the correct information. During my studies and work at CAS, I have learned about trustworthy data sources. For example, we always use climate information that is used by the IPCC or meteorological offices.

Narrative maps are a great tool for communicating with the broad public about climate risks. How can narrative maps or other tools be used to communicate with local authorities to change their environmental awareness? Could you share your experience with that? How to build an effective message to them?

Climate change information is complicated and often not translated into local context. As a result, local authorities are not reached. By tailoring the information, the local authorities can use the information about climate risks to make decisions about, for example, where to take measures. We use storytelling as a communication method to engage with the readers. For example, a story of a grandfather with his granddaughter on a heat wave day in Milano connects to the emotions of readers.

Sophie, you also ran a part of the learning program on urban resilience within Reachout. Building resilience to tackle climate risks and hazards in cities requires a multi-faceted approach that includes physical and social interventions and involves all stakeholders, including the government, private sector, civil society, and citizens. Could you point out, some innovative approaches to this topic? Have you got your favourite positive examples that you have encountered along your professional path?

Indeed, it is important to engage many stakeholders. We often use workshops to bring together stakeholders across multiple working fields. These workshops are used to determine which effects of climate change impact the city. The most important hazards are prioritized and form the basis for action. In REACHOUT, we used this workshop in Logroño.

Thank you very much for this interview. I wish you a lot of fruitful work in creating story maps for the city hubs! Can you tell us who will be the next person to interview and what would you like to find out from that person?

Yes! I would like to interview Federico Aili, Associate Programs and Engagement at Resilient Cities Network.