Water and Society

Present-day environmental challenges are complex and requiring interdisciplinary research and solutions. NIVA has a wide-ranging team of scientists that works at the interface of environmental and societal dynamics, with experts in ecology, environmental law, environmental governance, political ecology and economics. Through a multidisciplinary approach, we can contribute relevant knowledge to a variety of water-society related challenges and solutions in Norway and beyond. Our geographic focus is broad with projects in the Arctic, Europe, China, South East Asia, and Africa.

Key foci of NIVAs Water and Society section include:

Water and environmental governance

An array of social arrangements, rules and institutions frame the way our environment and our water and natural resource base is being used, managed, and protected. These arrangements involve multiple actors, with multiple interests operating at multiples scales. Water and environmental governance influence how we may create a well-functional society and achieve a sustainable future. In our projects we are interested in understanding the consequences of different governance arrangements and how they play out locally, how environmental governance translates into practice, and how governance and decision-making processes relates to environmental knowledge production.

Socio-ecological assessments of ecosystem health

A socio-ecological perspective considers people to be an integral part of ecology and all aspects of life on Earth.  A social-ecological assessment of ecosystem health includes consideration of the economic, political, technological and cultural facets that human populations may exert on ecosystems and the impacts that ecosystems have on human well-being. Understanding ecosystem health in this framework can not only help to formulate more effective management, but also contribute to ensuring that natural ecosystems are managed to meet multiple Sustainable Development Goals.

Stakeholder involvement, participatory approaches, and Responsible Research and Innovation

The complexity of water management and governance makes involvement of multiple actors, including citizens, almost a prerequisite for effective, efficient and relevant research, policy and decision-making. Co-production and co-creation of knowledge and solutions are increasingly seen as necessary for dealing with such complex dynamics. There is, however, a lack of evidence-based assessments/knowledge on how such processes best contribute to water governance objectives and how different participatory approaches work under different contexts, cultures and place-based mechanisms. Furthermore, the growth of enabling technologies has led to the emergence of approaches that anticipates and assesses potential implications and societal expectations, with the aim to foster the design of inclusive and sustainable research and innovation, such as the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) framework. We address such aspects both as an integral part of our project work and as a theme on its own.

Environmental economics and valuation of ecosystem services

For the abatement of environmental pressures such as climate change or the compliance with environmental laws and regulations (e.g. the Water Framework Directive), it is often necessary to implement measures. The selection of measures should be done in ways that maximizes the benefits to society i.e. the least costly and most effective measure, or the measure giving most benefits to society should be implemented first. In our projects we assess costs and benefits of measures by using different approaches, inter alia an ecosystem services approach. 

Environmental law, institutional and policy analyses

Law and governance provides the basis for our human activities and our relationship with nature. Effective laws and institutional frameworks could ensure sustainable development through regulating human activities and resolving conflicting interests to natural resources and the environment. They also play a role in ensuring the maintenance of freshwater and marine ecosystems’ integrity and their provision of ecosystem services. Our projects analyse the effects of existing laws and regulations, institutional frameworks, and policies on different human activities and environmental problems, and propose improvements and innovations where necessary. We cover a broad range of areas from contamination and risk management, forest management, freshwater and marine governance, marine spatial planning, agriculture, aquaculture, remediation/restoration, and green financing.

Climate adaptation and mitigation

Climate change will result in changes in water regimes that in some places will lead to too little water and in others too much water. Knowledge on how to safeguard water resources and how to adapt is therefore a necessity in the face of climate change. The need to transform and de-carbonise our society can lead to difficult trade-offs as some policies and decisions seeking to mitigate emissions may be conflicting with other environmental objectives such as water quality. Our projects address these and other water-related climate change challenges.

Reference project: TROPOS - The Oceans of Tomorrow.

Last updated 19.05.2021