Category Archives: interdisciplinary

The use of scenarios in climate policy planning

Scenarios are often used to depict the possible outcomes of alternative future developments as part of the evaluation of climate and energy policy measures. In Finland, scenarios have become a standard practice in climate-related policy planning. However, scenario planning often results in a single cohesive narrative, which lacks transparency in why certain developments and solutions are included and others left out.

This article focuses on how scenarios created during the planning of Finland’s Medium-term Plan for Climate Change Policy (KAISU) were built, and how the actors involved assessed the characteristics and quality of these scenarios. We interviewed a total of 18 participants from research, administration, and policymaking domains involved in the creation of the plan and the scenarios it contains. Semi-structured interviews provided an insight into the creation and use of scenarios as part of policy formulation, as well as points of further improvement for the process.

The KAISU plan was constructed as a cross-sectoral collaborative effort between policymakers, public officials, and researchers. Despite the variety of actors involved in the process, the resulting scenarios were perceived as well executed by the participants. However, national scenario foresight could be improved in three dimensions: 1) the process where actors collaborate to build scenarios, 2) the scenario methodology, where solutions and developments are included or excluded, and 3) use of the scenarios after their construction.

Read the full paper here: Aro, K., Aakkulaa, J., Lauttamäki, V., Varhoa, V., Martens, P. and Rikkonen, P. (2022). The use of scenarios in climate policy planning: an assessment of actors’ experiences and lessons learned in Finland. Climate Policy, DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2022.2123773

Planetary Health: Taking sustainability to the next level

After being a professor of Sustainable Development for more than 18 years, I am proud to let you know that – as of today – I will hold the chair Planetary Health at Maastricht University.

For me, Planetary Health has always been the foundation of sustainable development. However, the sustainability debate has been hijacked in recent years by industry and governments. Their view regarding sustainable development significantly has been subordinate to the dogma of economic growth with little regard for planetary health. How shortsighted this is, has been illustrated by the various outbreaks of zoonotic diseases (with corona as one of the latest examples), our current climate crises and the global decline of biodiversity. These are just some examples, but it is increasingly clear that our own well-being is closely connected with the health of the planet on which we live.

It is not nearly enough to keep the planet ‘as is’. There has to be a positive, regenerative development in order to make the planet, and everything on it, healthy. If we respect our planet, we respect life, we respect ourselves. That is also what the new chair Planetary Health stands for. Taking sustainability to the next level!

Vacancies: Climate change health impacts, vulnerability and opportunities

PhD-candidate and post-doc Climate change health impacts, vulnerability and opportunities

We are looking for an enthusiastic PhD and post-doc researcher on healthy climate adaptation.

Healthy climate adaptation is a key prerequisite for achieving a natural and vital rural environment. Addressing the physical and mental health impacts of climate change in rural areas requires a system-based approach that accounts for the fact that these impacts are mediated by changes in population, agriculture, nature and biodiversity. Vulnerability is a function of the extent to which individuals/populations are sensitive to direct and indirect climate change impacts and of the capacity of the population, agriculture, nature and biodiversity to adapt in a healthy way to new climate conditions. Human population vulnerability is highly dependent on socio-economic, demographic and technical context, while vulnerability of agriculture, nature and biodiversity are mostly determined by local conditions, such as (extreme) weather conditions, nutrients and water availability.

To date, however, there is relatively little (empirical) knowledge on the vulnerability of human health to climate change and adaptation measures within this broader web of demographic, socio-economic, technical, nature, biodiversity and agricultural developments. Using a system perspective, we will explore how climate impacts and adaptation measures will affect human health and its interrelations with agriculture, nature and biodiversity. In doing so, we will identify the most important challenges for future health and well-being in each of the selected rural regions. For the human population we will explore future climate scenarios, accounting for possible trends in risk factors, and identify at-risk groups within the selected regions in support of rural climate adaptation measures.

The PhD and post-doc will work closely together to:

  • Develop an integrated health impact assessment protocol for, and gain insight in (health) consequences of climate change for people and their living environment in the three selected rural regions, including a description of vulnerable groups in these regions.
  • Gain insight in mechanisms of climate adaptation measures and interrelations between different transition tasks related to different sectors (health, agriculture, biodiversity) by developing a theoretical framework between healthy climate adaptation measures and potential impacts.
  • Develop practical guidelines for incorporation of these health considerations and vulnerabilities in decision making, to be used on a regional rural level.

The post-doc will be co-responsible for project leadership.

Both PhD and post-doc projects are embedded within the larger transdisciplinary NWO funded MANTRA project (CliMate AdaptatioN for HealTy Rural Areas ). MANTRA aims to develop an innovative system approach that integrates rural priorities for climate change with health risks and opportunities for local communities. It will co-create data, assessments, measures and interventions for healthy climate adaptation in 3 rural living labs. The MANTRA projects involves different disciplines (health, climate, ecology, governance) and various actors such as universities, applied science institutes, assessment agencies, organizations for societal issues and citizen participation, health organizations and various regional stakeholders.

The candidates will be based at Maastricht University College, Venlo, The Netherlands. The supervisor-team will be led by Prof.  Pim Martens

Who are you?

We are looking for candidates who:

  • have a master’s degree (or is near completion of a master program) for the PhD position / have a PhD degree (or is near completion of a PhD for the post-doc position) in the field of Public Health, Sustainability or Environmental  Sciences, Interdisciplinary Science, or another relevant field;
  • has affinity with climate adaptation and health issues;
  • the PhD likes to engage in transdisciplinary research, collaborating with both scientists from across disciplines and societal actors; the post-doc should have experience in participatory research and co-creation processes.
  • is able to perform tasks independently and in teams, has good organization, communication and writing skills, and is fluent in both English and Dutch (For this position your command of the English language is expected to be at C1 level).

Do you want more information?
For more information about this position, please visit Academic Transfer via these links for the PhD-position and postdoc-position.

A South-African Perspective on Climate Change and Health

Climate change presents an unprecedented international and urgent health threat to sustainable development, human health and survival, thus placing human lives at risk. All health professionals have a duty to advocate for action at all levels to mitigate and adapt to climate change and can or should play a critical role in mitigating and reducing risk. However, the global health sector has been slow to recognise the impact of climate change upon health.

Interview findings indicate that South Africa, as a country and people, will be particularly vulnerable to climate change and its consequential health effects, food security and overall impact on livelihoods, particularly affecting the poor. Overall, participants held the view that the predicament in access to healthcare is set to overwhelm present and prospective generations within the South African context.

Responses to climate change, whether by mitigation of its effects or adaptation to them, will require strong and effective intersectoral organisation efforts within government at all levels, along with interdisciplinary research. A proposal to centralise climate change action within the national departments or to form a South African National Department of Climate Change, which reports directly to the president and parliament, has been made. As the aspect of climate change and public health intersects with virtually all other facets of government, such an initiative may go a long way to increase collaboration across borders.

Read the full paper here: Dos Santos, M., John, J., Garland, R., Palakatsela, R., Banos, A., Martens, P., Nemukula, B., Ramathuba, M., Nkohla, F. & Lenyibi, K. (2022). Climate change and health within the South African context: A thematic content analysis study of climate change and health expert interviews. African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine, 14 (1).

Organizations, learning, and sustainability

Effects of climate change are being observed at an increasingly alarming rate across the world. Each year we see more severe flooding, droughts, bushfires and heatwaves, and recent studies show that unless we change our current practices these events will continue to worsen. Finding meaningful solutions to sustainability challenges requires companies and other actors to broaden their thinking, go beyond organizational boundaries and engage more with their stakeholders. However, broadening organizational perspectives and collaborating with diverse stakeholders involves inherent political and process-related tensions stemming from a resistance to change, competing motivations, lack of trust, and disciplinary-specific language.

Current research has focused on disciplinary-specific approaches to learning for sustainability. Our review aligns with calls from prior research for cross-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder approaches to sustainability. It offers a deepened understanding of the challenges organizations and multi-stakeholder initiatives face when learning for sustainability, including entrenched power relations, and traditional decision-making and value structures. We introduce ‘reflexive complicity’ as a conceptual lens for understanding the slow progress we see in societal responses to sustainability challenges. We argue that in order to overcome these challenges and realize meaningful sustainability outcomes, more critical reflexive learning is needed on what motivates engagement with sustainability from academia and practice. Shifting how we motivate business and management research on learning for sustainability, in a way that prioritizes sustainability outcomes over firm performance, could allow for more engaged and transdisciplinary research collaborations and bring us a step closer to understanding how to embed critical reflexive learning processes into businesses. Similarly, breaking patterns of reflexive complicity from key actors in businesses could also see a shift toward more radical and long-term responses to sustainability in practice.

Read the full paper here: Feeney, M., Grohnert, T., Gijselaers, W. & Martens, P. (2022). Organizations, learning, and sustainability: a cross-disciplinary review and research agenda. Journal of Business Ethics, 364.

Human behaviour in relation to waste management

In recent years, the research on human behaviour in relation to waste management has increased at an exponential rate. At the same time, the expanding academic literature on this topic makes it more difficult to understand the main areas of interest, the leading institutions and authors, the possible interconnections among different disciplines, and the gaps. The paper below maps knowledge domain on recycling behaviour through bibliometric analysis and text mining in order to identify current trends, research networks and hot topics. 2061 articles between 1975 and 2020 from three different databases are examined with an interdisciplinary approach. The findings reveal that 60% of papers have been published between 2015 and 2020, and this topic is of global interest. Leading countries are mainly located in Europe, North America and Commonwealth; however, China and Malaysia are also assuming a driving role.

Bibliometrics and text mining provide the intellectual configuration of the knowledge on recycling behaviour; co-word analysis individuates conceptual sub-domains in food waste, determinants of recycling behaviour, waste management system, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), higher-level education, plastic bags, and local government. Overall, waste management and related human behaviour represent a universal challenge requiring a structured and interdisciplinary approach at all levels (individual, institutions, industry, academia). Lastly, this paper offers some suggestions for future research such as smart city design, sensor network system, consumer responsibilisation, the adoption of a more comprehensive view of the areas of investigation through the holistic analysis of all stakeholders.

Read the full paper here: Alessandro Concari, Gerjo Kok & Pim Martens. (2022). Recycling behaviour: Mapping knowledge domain through bibliometrics and text mining. Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 303, 114160.

DiCaprio heeft meer bereikt dan klimaatwetenschappers

Symposium over activisme in de wetenschap

Tekst door Maurice Timmerman, gepubliceerd in de Observant

Kun je als wetenschapper tegelijk een activist zijn? Komt je onafhankelijkheid dan niet in het geding? En wat als je met je wetenschappelijke bevindingen andere activisten tegen de haren in strijkt en je inbox volstroomt met haatmails?

Het zijn vragen die afgelopen dinsdag aan bod kwamen tijdens een online UM-symposium, op touw gezet door het Platform voor Onderzoeksethiek en Integriteit en het Platform for Community-Engaged Research. 

Recordings of a livestream discussion about the tension between activism and academic research.

Een van de drie panelleden, onderzoeker Astrid Offermans, vindt dat academici bij hun leest moeten blijven. “We moeten betrouwbare kennis leveren, waarbij we ons onafhankelijk opstellen en open staan voor andere perspectieven. Dat doen activisten niet. Het gevaar is dat activistische wetenschappers aandacht belangrijker vinden dan methodologische zuiverheid, dat ze willen overtuigen in plaats van analyseren, een sexy verhaal voor het voetlicht brengen in plaats van de eerlijke, saaie waarheid.

Jane Goodall

De andere twee panelleden zijn het daar niet mee eens. Pim Martens, hoogleraar duurzame ontwikkeling, noemt zichzelf een ‘scientivist’. “Dat is een publieke intellectueel, denk aan Einstein, die het als een morele verplichting ziet om zich als burger in te zetten voor een betere wereld. Of Jane Goodall die haar leven lang chimpansees bestudeerde en het later opnam voor deze dieren, die benadrukte dat ze net als mensen een emotioneel leven hebben, met waardevolle relaties.”

Wetenschappers twijfelen voortdurend, doet Martens dat ook als activist, vraagt spreekstalmeester Teun Dekker, hoogleraar filosofie aan het University College. 

Zeker, zegt de duurzaamheidsprof. “Ik vraag me weleens af of ik met een mars moet meelopen, of ik blogs over een onderwerp moet publiceren. De grens tussen wetenschap en activisme is soms delicaat.


Het derde panellid, Maurice Zeegers, hoogleraar epidemiologie, schaart zich achter Martens. “Ik zou haast willen zeggen: alle activisten zouden wetenschappers moeten zijn. Zoeken naar waarheid, zoals Offermans dat benadrukte, gaat goed samen met engagement, maar ook met onderzoek voor het bedrijfsleven. Ik werk op dit moment samen met een advocatenkantoor dat een zaak aanspant tegen een farmaceut.”

Dekker: “Hoe leg je uit dat je wel hun geld accepteert, maar niet per se zegt wat ze willen horen?”

Zeegers: “De bedrijven waar ik voor werk, willen juist die wetenschappelijke conclusie horen, ook als het ze niet uitkomt. Die integriteit is wat wetenschap waardevol maakt.


Wat als je als ‘scientivist’ te maken krijgt met groepen die je wetenschappelijke conclusies van tafel vegen, vraagt iemand uit de ‘zaal’? “De nachtmerrie van elke wetenschapper”, zegt Dekker , “dat je tienduizend e-mails op je dak krijgt, die niet allemaal even prettig zijn.”

Toch deelt ook Zeegers zijn resultaten op sociale media. “Het is belangrijk om met je poten in de modder te staan, om te begrijpen wat er speelt in de samenleving. En ja, bevindingen die mensen tegen de haren in strijken, moet je ook plaatsen. Als ze maar wetenschappelijk aan de eisen voldoen.”

Martens: “Je hebt niet alles in de hand. Soms verstuur je een tweet, net iets te snel, en dan blijkt dat die een eigen leven gaat leiden. Maar goed, als je werk je passie is, dan wil je dat ook op sociale media delen. Niemand wordt graag gestalkt, maar dat is niet alleen een angst van wetenschappers, maar ook van politici. Het voordeel is dat je als wetenschapper een betrouwbare bijdrage kunt leveren aan discussies.”

Als epidemioloog krijgt Zeegers in deze tijden van corona vaak vragen over vaccinaties. “Je ziet dat de samenleving steeds meer gebruik maakt van wetenschap. En de studies die in de media passeren, kan ik in perspectief plaatsen. Ik vind dat mijn plicht.”

Vele waarheden

Nieuwe vraag uit de zaal, aldus Dekker. “We hebben de mond vol van objectiviteit, waarheid, onafhankelijkheid. Waarom geven we niet gewoon toe dat dit niet bestaat? Is het in stand houden van de pretentie niet gevaarlijker dan toegeven?”

Offermans: “Ik snap wat hier wordt bedoeld, maar ik denk dat de wetenschappelijke zuiverheid en analyse het verschil maken. Zijn er één of vele waarheden, over die vraag kun je lang debatteren, maar zolang je de werkelijkheid academisch benadert is het prima.”

Zeegers: “Objectiviteit bestaat inderdaad niet, iedereen is bevooroordeeld, dat denk ik ook. Maar dat betekent niet dat we niet meer op onze wetenschappelijke methoden kunnen vertrouwen.”


Dat wetenschappers ijveren voor een goede zaak vindt Offermans prima, maar liever niet op hetzelfde terrein waarop ze onderzoek doen. “Ik zou dat scheiden.”

Dat lukt niet altijd, zegt Martens. “In een interview word je toch vaak op beide rollen aangesproken. Maar waarom zou je je intellectuele kracht niet gebruiken als activist? Ieder zijn eigen expertise, en als dat gezag oplevert, waarom niet?”

Einstein is daar een goed voorbeeld van, zegt Dekker. “Een groot natuurkundige, maar wat wist hij nou van de wereldvrede, waar hij zich zo voor inzette?”

Martens: “Wat weet Leonardo DiCaprio van klimaatverandering? Maar toen hij daar een paar jaar geleden een speech over gaf, gebeurde er iets. Hij heeft in ieder geval meer bereikt dan ik en mijn collega’s met al onze vakartikelen. Want de klimaatboodschap, die nu gemeengoed is, probeerden wij dertig jaar geleden al aan de man te brengen. Niemand luisterde toen, heel frustrerend.”


Volgende vraag: hoe belangrijk is objectiviteit en onafhankelijkheid als ondertussen de planeet in brand staat?

“Het illustreert hoe impopulair mijn stellingname is”, zegt Offermans. “Maar er zijn alternatieven. Je kunt je ook opstellen als een eerlijke beurshandelaar, en alle opties en scenario’s laten zien vanuit wetenschappelijk perspectief. Daar hebben beleidsmakers veel baat bij.” 

Maar hoe houd je jezelf op het eerlijke pad, vraagt Dekker.

Martens: “Mijn ervaring is dat zo goed als alle onderzoekers eerlijk zijn.”

Dekker: “Uit een enquête bleek onlangs dat 52 procent van de onderzoekers toegeeft niet altijd volledig integer te zijn. Hoe kan een universiteit eerlijkheid stimuleren?” 

Zeegers: “Dan moet je ook naar de cultuur kijken, en daarbij spelen bijvoorbeeld zaken als werkdruk een rol. Maar buitengewoon belangrijk is dat je als onderzoeker een goede mentor bent en het goede voorbeeld geeft aan je promovendi. Er zijn trouwens ook survey’s waaruit blijkt dat 98 procent van de wetenschappers integer is. Onderzoekers zijn, denk ik, goede mensen.”

Dekker: “Maar wel mensen. Die soms struikelen.”

Urbanization and climate change likely to increase dengue risk in China

Significant land use changes have been taking place in China, particularly since the economic “Open Door” policy was implemented in 1978. Due to the development of special economic zones following this policy, the last four decades were characterized by rapid and unprecedented urbanization all over China. Meanwhile, since the first dengue outbreak in mainland China after China’s founding in 1949 was reported in 1978, China has been through dengue outbreaks of increasingly larger scales and a widening spatial distribution. Climate change, risk of imported cases, limited surveillance on dengue vectors, and increasing population migration, bring more pressure on the prevention and control of dengue in China. 

There are several pathways by which urbanization increases the risk of dengue. Urbanization could increase the risk of dengue by elevating the human-vector contacting rate, and higher distribution of Aeaegypti was also observed in urban areas. Our review identified that the regional hotspots of dengue epidemics were Guangdong Province and southern Taiwan.

The occurrence and spread of dengue result from a complex interplay of various factors such as meteorological variables, air pollutants, socioeconomic status, and demographic characteristics. Therefore, a holistic assessment based on time series analysis is needed at the regional level to prepare for future changes in climate and land-use on this important disease.

Read the full paper here: Gao P, Pilot E, Rehbock C, Gontariuk M, Doreleijers S, Wang L, Krafft T, Martens P, Liuet Q. (2021) Land use and land cover change and its impacts on dengue dynamics in China: A systematic review. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 15(10).

KNAW commissie Planetary Health

Vereerd lid te zijn van de KNAW commissie Planetary Health die gaat inventariseren welke wetenschappelijke kennis er nodig is op het gebied van planetary health en welke prioriteiten voor kennisontwikkeling er liggen voor Nederland.

Planetary health is de interdisciplinaire benadering van het verband tussen de gezondheid en welzijn van mens en dier en de ‘gezondheid’ van de aarde. Het gaat daarbij om klimaatverandering en verlies van biodiversiteit maar bijvoorbeeld ook om grootschalige milieuvervuiling, ontbossing, erosie en andere door de mens veroorzaakte veranderingen die gezondheidsrisico’s met zich meebrengen. Die risico’s zijn onder meer infectieziekten, problemen met voedsel- en drinkwatervoorziening, migratie en conflict en mentale gezondheid.

Voor meer informatie zie KNAW website


Honored to be a member of the KNAW (The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) Planetary Health committee, which will inventorize the scientific knowledge needed in the field of planetary health and the priorities for knowledge development for the Netherlands.

Planetary health is the interdisciplinary approach to the link between the health and well-being of human and non-human animals and the ‘health’ of the earth. This concerns climate change and loss of biodiversity, but also, for example, large-scale environmental pollution, deforestation, erosion and other man-made changes that entail health risks. Those risks include infectious diseases, problems with food and drinking water supplies, migration and conflict, and mental health.

For more information see KNAW website

In Memoriam: Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen

Me awarding Paul Crutzen his honorary doctorate.
Meteorologist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen died in his hometown Mainz on Thursday 28 January 2021

Paul Crutzen was awarded an honorary doctorate on Monday 14 January 2013 during the 37th anniversary (Dies Natalis) of Maastricht University. I had the honor to act as honorary promoter. I met Paul Crutzen during lectures we both gave to PhD students at the Polytech Grenoble. I got to know Paul Crutzen as a very nice, calm and modest man. Certainly not someone who shouts his Nobel Prize status from the rooftops. As scientific friends we kept in touch over the years.

Paul Crutzen has been a source of inspiration for me. Not only as a person – in an academic world where a lot of attention is paid to the ones with the biggest mouth, he was a relief – but also in terms of his scientific endeavors. Paul is someone who transcends boundaries, who is not only concerned with chemistry, but is also concerned with social issues, such as human rights. He told me, while we had lunch together during the break of our lectures, that when doing interdisciplinary research you need to be thick-skinned. However, if you persevere, the intellectual reward and social relevance is worth it.

The death of Paul Cutzen received extensive attention in the various media. To my knowledge, this was hardly the case in the Limburg media. While the laureate, in addition to Peter Debije, is the second Nobel Prize winner with South Limburg roots (from his grandfather’s side). A brief statement appeared in De Limburger newspaper the day after his death. That was all.

Until now, Maastricht University and its magazine Observant paid no attention at all to the death of Paul Crutzen. An In Memoriam in the Observant of the honorary doctor of Maastricht University would have been appropriate. In fact – I would argue for the establishment of a Paul Crutzen Institute – which focuses on interdisciplinary research into the Anthropocene (also a concept launched by Paul), global environmental problems such as climate change and biodiversity loss. Not only urgently needed at Maastricht University, but also a fitting tribute for this endearing, great thinker.

(With thanks to the genealogist Funs Patelski, editor of the Limburgs Tijdschrift voor Genealogy, who researched the Limburg ancestors of Paul Crutzen; Dutch version in Observant)