Climate courses for capacity building

Wageningen Climate Solutions

Photography: Shutterstock

BY Annemieke Groenenboom - September 2019

From parched agricultural land to massive floods and landslides – the consequences of climate change are enormous. How can society continue to function under such changing circumstances? According to Wageningen University & Research experts Ingrid Gevers and Arend Jan van Bodegom, who train over 120 climate professionals from around the world every year, resilience will be the key to success.

“While many countries have a strategy for climate adaptation and risk management, they mainly look for technological solutions, such as seeds for climate-proof crops. Human adaptability is just as important, however, as it is ultimately farmers themselves who will have to change their farming systems. And that requires resilience – the ability to process setbacks and bounce back after major change. We believe that climate experts must pay greater attention to this factor,” says Arend Jan van Bodegom, senior advisor on climate change adaptation at Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation.

Capacity building: how to influence mindsets

Building resilience requires new knowledge, according to Van Bodegom’s colleague Ingrid Gevers, senior advisor on climate change. “But above all it means knowing how to use this knowledge, when to act and how to influence people's mindsets so that they change their ways. We call this ‘capacity building’ and it’s what our climate courses are all about. No matter how much our students know and can do, they also have to be able to mobilize their stakeholders.”

People in Tanzania go in search of water. Photo: Shutterstock

Switch to drought-resistant crops

“Imagine a farmer whose crops fail due to extreme drought. To sustain his livelihood, he could switch to drought-resistant crops. That requires knowing which crops are most suitable – knowledge – and how to grow them – skills. But knowing what to grow and how to grow it will not make him change his practice. The key is having the will to change and to take the risk – and that’s why the right mindset is such a vital part of capacity building,” explains Gevers.


Students become teachers

Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, part of WUR, has been giving climate courses at strategic global hubs since 2009. Gevers coordinates ‘Managing risk in the face of climate change’ in Thailand and Van Bodegom is in charge of ‘Climate-change adaptation in food security and natural resource management’ in Uganda. Climate professionals from governments, NGOs and universities around the world attend these courses, often with a grant from Nuffic, a Dutch NGO for internationalization in education. They come to broaden their knowledge about climate change and learn how to prepare their practitioners to deal with its consequences. Questions answered in the courses include: How do experts from other countries do this? How do you share knowledge and activate stakeholders?

Long lasting droughts result in dead plants and cracked earth. Photo: Shutterstock

No solution without understanding the context

Learning to look at problems within their local context while at the same time recognizing how they are intertwined and connected to the landscape is the key lesson, according to Gevers. “Our students often underestimate the importance of this. But you have to fully understand the entire picture before you can come up with solutions. What is the current situation? How did we get here? And where are we heading? If the average temperature is projected to rise by two degrees, you need to anticipate and take action now. Ask the right questions, such as: What does this mean for people, plants and animals? Will there be crop failures and more heat waves? Is food security impacted? Who has the power to decide how to respond?”

Hotspot mapping

Such an analysis forms the basis of the course. The course itself starts with theory so everyone has a basic understanding of the most important concepts. For instance, what’s the difference between climate and weather? What is resilience? Next, participants divide into teams to work on a practical case. This can be an example from the country where the course is taking place or from somewhere else. They select a hotspot to map: an area inhabited by many – often poor – people vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The result is a visual representation with symbols highlighting natural resources, buildings, farmland and other elements that are at risk. Based on this, participants go into the field to talk with stakeholders and develop a climate action plan. The course leaders supervise and coach this process.


Students develop a climate outlook for hotspots. Photo: Ingrid Gevers

Presentation of a case study and its climate impacts. Photo: Ingrid Gevers

Ugandan course coordinator Florence Kyazze uses a game to explain the challenges small farmers face in becoming more climate resilient. Photo: Arend-Jan van Bodegom

No more overly simple solutions

Hotspot mapping seems like simple logic, but students often find it an eye-opener. Gevers: “It helps them to better understand the complexity of the system, the key factors and how they are related. That is important if you are to come up with appropriate solutions. For example, I know a country where the government built a concrete wall off the coast to protect the community from flooding. Sure enough, the wall kept the water out – but also blocked access for fish and nutrients to the mangrove forest behind it, meaning a smaller catch for fishermen and destruction of the natural coastal defence system. We see too many of these types of solutions that do more harm than good in the end.”


Together with local communities

Bernadetta Kabonesa, Senior Research Technician at the National Forestry Resources Institute (NaFORRI) in Uganda, was one of Gevers' students. “If I’ve learned one thing from this, it’s to make plans together with the local communities instead of behind my desk. They know the area like no other. We’re now also jointly taking measures like planting trees in places where residents can be affected by floods or landslides in the mountains. The community accepts democratically agreed measures much better than decisions imposed from above by the government.”

Flooded streets in Bangladesh. Photo: Sk Hasan Ali / Shutterstock

Role-playing games for insight into interests

The second lesson Gevers mentions is the translation of knowledge into a clear message. It is important to know who to talk to, and how, in order to get a story out there and mobilize people. “This requires personal skills, such as presentation techniques. I often let the students do presentations and I encourage formats that are more creative than PowerPoint, such as illustrations or working with artists. This helps the message sink in better.”


In Wageningen there is a unique Master’s programme called Climate Studies. It’s the first Master’s in the Netherlands to bundle expertise from the Earth, Life and Social Sciences. The programme is aimed specifically at students who wish to focus on the scientific knowledge about climate change and the interactions with society and the economy.

Climate Studies alumni go on to work as researchers at international research institutes and universities or as experts at environmental organizations or other NGOs. Local and national governments and the EU also need climate change specialists.

There are currently about 100 students on this two-year programme. Since the start of the programme in 2002, almost 200 students have graduated. Most students are Dutch, but there are also some from other countries. The MSc programme wants to attract more international students because people from different parts of the world experience and perceive climate change impact, mitigation and adaptation differently, which brings a wealth of experiences and perspectives to the classroom.

The damage from a tsunami and earthquake in Indonesia. Photo: Capture63 / Shutterstock

Lobbying and advocacy

Van Bodegom adds, “And last, but not least, the students learn: How do we ensure proper cooperation and awareness about the need to take action? How do we facilitate it and with what tools? We use the ‘lobby & advocacy’ game for this. Students take on the role of companies and the government to discuss the importance of climate change. This gives an insight into conflicting interests so they can better influence the mindset of stakeholders and build support for their plans, increasing resilience among partners.”

Learning by doing work in the field

Mustafa Hasani, lecturer in Natural Resources at Kabul University, took Van Bodegom's course. In addition to the three learning points, he was particularly impressed by the teaching method. The crucial thing for students is to get to work and go out into the field – they learn most from learning by doing. Hasani is an example of a professional who is now passing on his knowledge and even adopting the teaching approach. Besides teaching in class, he has integrated new methods for in-depth learning, like inviting stakeholders’ representatives, visiting fields, talking to communities and role-playing. “This makes students more motivated to get started and come up with better solutions,” Hasani says. “And it makes my lectures more effective, which is vital as I am teaching the next generation of climate professionals.”


A new climate change adaptation course will be offered in French later this year. And to cover all aspects of climate change, the institute is developing a course on access to climate finance, tackling questions like: Where can I find financing? What are the conditions? And how can I formulate a 'bankable' project? Gevers will give the first refresher course on 'Climate finance and migration' in Senegal this coming October.

Are you interested in a short course on climate change? Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation offers six different climate courses.

Do you wish to build capacities for climate change?

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If you have a specific question and prefer to contact us directly, Ingrid Gevers is ready to answer all your questions. Click the button for her contact details.

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