Fredrikstad have more than one “leg to stand on”


The Problem

Fredrikstad municipality has experienced several episodes of unusually intense rain have led to inundation and damage of private basements and infrastructure. Inadequate drainage systems unable to cope with the volume of surface water were the main cause of damage during the storm. The local media raised the issue, fueling public concern, and the issue was eventually discussed by the administration of Fredrikstad municipality. This motivated the municipality’s environmental official to seek advice from researchers.

In the case of extreme events those affected are covered through Norwegian national funds for hazards. However, the low focus on adaptation policies in Norway until recently may have resulted in a substantial knowledge gap, in which the municipalities are not aware of which consequences of climate change they should adapt to, how they should go about it, what the aims of adaptation are, and how they should finance their adaptation efforts. Nevertheless, the national government in Norway has in recent years singled out municipalities as one of the most important arenas for climate change adaptation. In Norway, designated local-level institutions are responsible for issues such as local planning and extreme weather-related emergencies. However, these are not established for the purpose of adapting to climate change per se.

Climate projections indicate that Fredrikstad can expect warmer winters. The average temperature is projected to be 0-1⁰C during winter, an increase from todays average of -3 - 0⁰C. The other seasons are also expected to become warmer with an increase of 0,5-1⁰C. Changes in the amount of precipitation is not expected to be significant, nor would the frequency of extreme precipitation events be expected to increase. However the increasing temperature would likely change the type of precipitation; less snow and more rain is expected. The increase in avereage temperature is also likely to increase the local growth season, due to an earlier onset of spring. An increase in sea-level and more frequent storm surges is also expected, although not to the same extent as for other costal cities in Norway (Hanssen-Bauer et al. 2009). 

Type(s) of the problem: 
Built infrastructure
Extreme wheather events
Water management

The Solution

Along with other Norwegian municipalities, Fredrikstad was included in the NORDADAPT research project (cf. the Hammerfest case) where researchers have been involved in climate change projections as well as the operationalization of adaptive strategies and measures. As mentioned in the Hammerfest case, a general conclusion from this project has been that there are four significant drivers that contributed to adding climate change adaptation to the municipal agenda; involving engaged officials at the local level, drawing on the experience of focusing events (recent extreme weather events), experiences of changes in a desired state or condition on infrastructure or services that are the responsibility of the municipality (“real-world indicators”), and the interaction with researchers. A primary step to finding successful solutions is then to recognize the need to adapt, and to identify some adaptation measures. Secondly, success rests on identifying both qualitative and qualitative vulnerability assessments and adaptation measures in local municipality plans and regulations.

The environmental advisor in Fredrikstad has been a moving force in engaging the municipality in several research projects on adaptation. Hence, Fredrikstad commissioned an additional study of socio-economic scenarios beyond what was developed in the NORDADAPT project (Sælensminde et al. 2010). Municipal staffs in planning departments who are assigned with the responsibility of handling adaptation in the smaller municipalities mainly devote their capacity to tasks that they are legally obliged to do. As long as laws and regulations do not require adaptation, it receives less priority than other tasks. The fact that larger municipalities like Fredrikstad have dedicated environmental officials, open up for devoting time to tasks according to their own priorities and judgements and across municipal sectors and departments. In addition to having a larger administration and dedicated personnel, Fredrikstad municipality has been more strongly connected to the central level of the government through various networks (such as the so-called “Cities for the Future”), compared to others.

The inclusion in the NORDADAPT-project has also contributed to peer-based learning experiences; it has enabled Fredrikstad to exchange experiences with other municipalities that do not necessarily share the same climate change impacts, but face similar “bundles” of challenges such as population growth, demands for densification, and needs for better transport systems challenges that all have to include the climate change adaptation dimension.

Nevertheless, it has been expressed from local actors that it is challenging to apply climate change projections for making vulnerability assessments, let alone using them as a basis for adaptive measures. In municipalities that have come relatively short in establishing an awareness of climate change issues, researcher involvement has in itself proved to be an important factor. Representatives of these municipalities state that researcher involvement is the main explanation for including adaptation in the agenda in their municipality, even to the point of being decisive. Hence, this participation has prompted awareness about climate change adaptation in the municipalities and has facilitated the use of scientific knowledge such as climate projections.

For municipalities where the issue of climate change awareness has had the opportunity to mature, as seems to me the case with Fredrikstad municipality, the researcher involvement has had impact as well, but only as an added factor. In this case, there are several factors that are affecting the municipality’s work on climate adaptation. Having sufficient resources, capacity to seek external expertise, involvement in municipal networks related to climate change issues, and engaged individuals with dedicated positions to deal with environmental or security issues becomes far more important. Thus, size emerges as a key determinant. The larger municipalities like Fredrikstad have more than one “leg to stand on” in their climate adaptation work. 

Type(s) of the solution: 
Market/Management-based solution

The Lessons

The general lessons learnt from this case, which also is applicable to other municipalities participating in adaptive processes where the research component has been integral, is that climate change issues and adaptation measures becomes more of an obvious task to be integrated into the portfolio of municipal responsibilities. A few variables stand out, however, that explain variations in the municipalities’ approach:

  • Municipality size and access to resources for adaptation measures are closely interrelated variables which work in favour of the larger municipalities in achieving operational adaptation measures.
  • The internal capacity of the municipality to take on non-obligatory tasks is important.
  • Local administrative “enthusiasts” are important in securing the lines of communication between municipal offices.
  • The use of external expertise, involving scientific research, and the participation in inter-municipal networks, can in some instances be decisive for succeeding with adaptation measures.
  • Being able to integrate adaptation measures into municipal plans might not be the biggest challenge to making such measures operational, rather it would seem that the lack of funds – or the lack of willingness to allocate funds – is a greater challenge at the municipal level.
  • Choosing an adaptation approach which involves the external involvement of expertise can thus be a way to not only put adaptation measures on the agenda, but also a way to securing local commitment, focus and resource allocation.
  • Being able to relate to down-scaled and locally tailored climate projections courtesy of the involvement of external expertise, as the case has been in Fredrikstad, enables a more hands on and concrete adaptation approach. The applicable local value of climate change knowledge is perceived as high.
  • Extending such projections into local developmental scenarios brings added value to the table, and puts the municipality’s vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities into perspective – even if it doesn’t form a point of departure for the actual adaptive measures.
  • The exchange of information between municipalities in their approaches to climate change adaptation is important. As such forerunners like Fredrikstad municipality in the Norwegian context have a particular responsibility to share knowledges and tools for climate change adaptation.


Nordland Research Institute