Public acceptance of nature-based solutions: towards sustainable natural hazard risk reduction

Anderson, Carl Cyrus (2022) Public acceptance of nature-based solutions: towards sustainable natural hazard risk reduction. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Without action, global impacts from natural hazards are expected to increase in frequency and severity due to climate change and concurrent ecological and social crises. Nature-based solutions (NbS) are sustainable approaches to disaster risk reduction (DRR) that provide multiple additional benefits for nature and to a range of stakeholders. NbS contrast with ‘grey’ infrastructure measures, which rely on non-natural materials, generally aim to address a single issue, and have fewer societal co-benefits. NbS are generally conceptualized as ‘green’ measures, although ‘hybrid’ measures (combining green and grey) are also NbS. DRR measures often rely on public and community buy-in for their success, but NbS amplify this reliance with their emphasis on co-creation, -implementation, and -monitoring.

Public acceptance is therefore directly linked to the ability of NbS to provide benefits, including DRR. Although NbS research increasingly focuses on barriers to its uptake, there is a lack of research on public acceptance of local residents in NbS ‘host communities’. Instead, it is often taken for granted that current high levels of public acceptance of NbS at European scale will be replicated at local levels and maintained over time. Additionally, there is a lack of past research that compares perceptions of NbS and grey measures, explores a broad range of factors that may influence public acceptance, and determines preferences across the full green-hybrid-grey spectrum.

This research, conducted within the Horizon 2020 OPERANDUM project, aims to determine factors that contribute to positive or negative attitudes and behaviours towards NbS for DRR. A systematic literature review was carried out, followed by citizen surveys and focus groups at planned European NbS sites. Surveys were conducted in Scotland (landslides; n=66 respondents), Finland (lake eutrophication; n=204) and Greece (flooding; n=84), followed by in-depth focus groups (n=4) at the Scotland site.

Results from the three methods noted above show generally high public acceptance, but also consistently highlight scepticism regarding NbS effectiveness for DRR and uncertainty surrounding the approach as barriers to acceptance. Dozens of factors that can influence acceptance were identified and, despite variation in the strength of factors across study sites, several consistencies emerged. For example, public trust in implementers was important for positive attitudes towards the NbS, while perceptions of place were important for pro-NbS behaviour (i.e., engagement). Cultural ecosystem services, and especially aesthetic value, were highlighted as crucial determinants of acceptance throughout. However, in the Scotland site, the effectiveness of the NbS for reducing risk was paramount and therefore the perceived limitations of NbS drove preferences towards greyer (i.e., more hybrid) measures. This thesis emphasises a need for more focus on the importance of meeting public expectations for risk reduction, providing cultural ecosystem services as co-benefits, centering people-place relations in NbS work, and considering the efficacy and support of hybrid rather than purely green options.

Additionally, the Public Acceptance of NbS framework [PA-NbS] is introduced in the review as a starting point for NbS researchers and practitioners to systematise their consideration of public acceptance and how it can be increased. It includes overarching recommendations: provide benefits, increase awareness of benefits, communicate effectively, and promote participation. Each recommendation has four corresponding success criteria which, through the subsequent analyses, are tailored to both the specific contexts of the study sites and for NbS projects globally. Using interdisciplinary concepts and a mixed-methods approach, this research takes a critical perspective with the practice-oriented aim of improving the sustainable success of NbS for DRR. With this, further research is called for to better understand public expectations of NbS, how best to frame NbS and their (co-)benefits to different stakeholders, and how acceptance may change through time based on evidence of NbS performance.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Supported by funding from a University of Glasgow College of Social Sciences PhD Scholarship and by the European Union’s (EU) Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program, funded by and carried out within the framework of the OPERANDUM (OPEn-air laboRAtories for Nature baseD solUtions to Manage hydro-meteo risks) project (Grant No. 776848).
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Interdisciplinary Studies
Supervisor's Name: Renaud, Professor Fabrice and Hanscomb, Dr. Stuart
Date of Award: 2022
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2022-83090
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 23 Aug 2022 15:06
Last Modified: 23 Aug 2022 15:08
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83090
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