I am currently working as a Principal Investigator at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (Austria). I hold a PhD from the Flood Hazard Research Centre at Middlesex University in London (UK) with a focus on political geography and flood risk management. My research interests are generally broad, but I am focused urban environmental change, resilience, and adaptation transitions. In the past three years, I have received over €2.5 million in funding as Principal Investigator or Co-Applicant from National and European sources; these include JPI-Urban, the Austrian Climate Research Programme, and the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

The research projects focus on how extreme hydrological events have focused the attention of communities on their vulnerability to natural hazards. Both ongoing and past research projects build on the disaster risk, as well as communities’ conceptual framing of risk, investigating the influence of socio-political developments on hazard exposure, vulnerability, and the capacity to cope with and adapt to extreme events.

Within these research projects I use a broad methodological repertoire, integrating quantitative and qualitative social science research methods, data collections and assessments. My research methods have been driven by (1) qualitative research methods, such as semi-structure interviews with government officials as well as households, q-methodology and focus group discussions, (2) quantitative approaches, such as surveys and social networks and (3) scenario-based stakeholders.

I have been involved in past and ongoing Special Reports of the Austrian Panel of Climate Change, as well as acting as expert reviewer for reports of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change. Further, I will act as Coordinating Lead Author for the chapter on “Socioeconomic and climatic drivers of land use change in Austria: past and future developments and their drivers, integrated, socio-ecological perspectives” for the current Special Report on Land use, land management and climate change of the Austrian Panel of Climate Change. Currently, I serve on the editorial board of the Journals Society & Natural Resources and Journal of Flood Risk Management.

I have followed through with a number of project, consistently having published in top ranking international journals, including Science of the Total Environment, Current Opinion of Environmental Sustainability and Environment Science & Policy, as well as numerous policy-informing book chapters and government reports.

 

( 01 )

Education

Ph.D 2015

Middlesex University

M.A. 2010

PG Cert 2011

Middlesex University

University of Vienna

MS.c. 2009

Vienna University of Economics and Business

 

( 02)

Employment

10/2019-01/2020

University of Vienna

Lecturer. Department of Geography and Regional Research, University of Vienna, Vienna

Since 04/2016

University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna

Principal Investigator and Lecturer. Institute of Mountain Risk Engineering,

11/2014-04/2016

University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna

Research Fellow and Lecturer. Institute of Mountain Risk Engineering

Middlesex University

Since 10/2020

University of Vienna

Visiting Professor. Department of Geography and Regional Research, University of Vienna, Vienna

10/2018-01/2019; since 10/2020

Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Bolzano

Lecturer. Faculty of Science and Technology

01/2011-12/2013

Research Associate. Flood Hazard Research Centre

Research Associate-Consultant

10/2008-08/2010

 

( 03 )

Research

Demographic change and hydrological hazards: flood risk management in Alpine areas facing population decline and demographic ageing

09/2010-05/2014

Fresh Thoughts Consulting GmbH

Ecologic – Institute for International and European Environmental Policy gGmbH

Researcher-Consultant

Funded by: Austria Academy of Science

The project DemoHazAlps addresses the issue of demographic change and flood risk in Alpine areas. It aims to develop a better understanding of demographic change as a key driver transforming the patterns of risks and to provide a scientific basis for the development of risk management and adaptation strategies for Alpine areas facing population decline and demographic ageing.
DemoHazAlps will address these objectives from an interdisciplinary perspective (of hazard and risk management, political science, and spatial planning) and draws on a broad methodological repertoire, integrating social science research methods with spatial analysis techniques.
The project builds on the disaster risk community’s conceptual framing of risk and investigates the influence of demographic change on flood hazard exposure, vulnerability, and the capacity to cope with and adapt to extreme events. Research will begin by developing an analytical framework of demographic change and natural risk management. Through a macro-scale analysis of the dynamics of flood risk and population change in Austria, two Alpine municipalities will be selected for the empirical case study research.
In the case studies, the exposure of buildings and residents will be assessed and mapped for different temporal scales on the basis of GIS-analysis, document analysis and semi-structured interviews. To assess the influence of demographic change on social and physical vulnerability the research team will conduct a GIS-based analysis of exposed buildings and a large-scale postal survey among flood-prone households. The capacity to cope with and adapt to extreme events under conditions of demographic change will be investigated through the analysis of legal and political documents and semi-structured interviews with policy-makers and stakeholders. Both case studies will be concluded with stakeholder workshops in order to inform the development of adaptation options for responding to the challenge of demographic change in natural hazards management.

FLOODLABEL: A smart tool for governance towards flood-resilient cities

Funded by: JPI-Urban

Flooding is among the most expensive natural disasters in Europe. The damage of the 2013 river floods in Central Europe is € 12.900 million; the spring 2016 torrential rain events in Europe caused € 5.400 million damage. Extreme hydro-meteorological events such as river floods and flash floods will likely increase in the future due to climate change (IPCC 2014). This impacts the flood-resilience of cities. However, traditional flood protection methods provided by governments are no longer neither technically able nor economically feasible to deal with this. To substantially reduce the impact of floods on cities, besides governmental measures also individual homeowners need to make adaptations to their homes Those adaptation measures exist, but for the moment homeowners insufficiently implement them, due to their lack of risk awareness, knowledge on measures and triggers to take action. To address these issues, this project designs, tests and implements a smart governance tool – the FLOODLABEL – in urban living labs in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Austria. This prototype tool informs homeowners on their individual flood risks, assists experts in deciding upon contextualized measures for flood reduction and prevention and supports local governments in their policies on the area-based accumulated effects of individual flood protection measures.

Balancing dimensions of vulnerability, coping ability and adaptive capacity for realising social justice in climate change adaptation policy

Funded by: Austrian Climate Research Programme (ACRP)

Natural hazard events cause huge economic damage and social disruption in our society. Impacts not just result from the frequency and magnitude of natural hazard events and an increasing exposure of buildings or infrastructure, but also from the vulnerability and resilience of residents and businesses. However, current natural hazard management practice commonly overlooks who actually lives and conducts commerce in the areas at risk. The prevalent spatial-economic, technocratic approach plans built protection based on the number of buildings and infrastructure exposed to natural hazards. The debate on social justice in climate change adaptation mainly focuses on stereotypical groups, such as migrants, the less affluent or the elderly. Decisions on whom to protect often cause conflicts in resource allocation and distribution. JustFair develops policy guidance by (1) comparing international practice in addressing social justice issues in climate change adaptation and by (2) empirically identifying disadvantaged groups among households and small businesses, taking into account that individual resources and deficits need to be balanced against each other.

 

( 04 )

Publications

Thomas Thaler, Sebastian Seebauer, Arthur Schindelegger (2020)

Patience, persistence and pre-signals: Policy dynamics of planned relocation in Austria. Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions, 63: 102122. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2020.102122.

Within the wide array of adaptive responses to flood hazards, planned relocation of residents at risk is usually only taken into account if other responses are ineffective or unavailable. Residents targeted by planned relocation are confronted with radical changes in their livelihood; therefore, relocation is highly contested within public risk discourse. The present paper assesses dynamic processes in the design and implementation of voluntary planned relocation in the Austrian Danube catchment over five decades. Using the Multiple Streams Approach, the emergence of policy windows is mapped to developments in the problem, political, policy and population streams. A mixed-methods design combines semi-structured interviews of 88 affected households and 21 decision-makers with archival research. Repeated flood events underscored that standard protection did not suffice for all riverside communities. In consequence, national authorities acted as policy entrepreneurs to advocate planned relocation and direct the discourse; by contrast, local stakeholders and residents played a mostly passive role. The relocation policy developed from ad-hoc informal arrangements towards a formalised procedure. Relocation governance evolved as incremental change over a long time span instead of immediate, radical disruption. Policy acceptance by residents depended crucially on social learning and on coincidence with personal circumstances and biographical stages. Policy windows opened for several years, when pre-signals from ongoing public debate accumulated and the different timescales in the decision-making of public administrators, elected representatives and residents aligned. Key factors were long-term perspective, flexibility, engagement and social capacity at a local level to deal with and manage planned relocation.

Thomas Thaler, Andreas Zischg, Margreth Keiler, Sven Fuchs (2018)

Allocation of risk and benefits – distributional justices in mountain hazard management. Regional Environmental Change, 18 (2): 353-365. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-017-1229-y

The aim of the paper is to examine the questions of distributional justices and the potential impact of different political strategies on mountain hazard management in Austria. Decisions on whom to protect often caused contradicting concepts of political understanding, which differ in interpretations of fair resource allocation and distribution. We found that – depending on the respective political direction – various local governments gain and others loose within the actual distributional system of mitigation strategies. The paper used a spatio-temporal research approach, where we used data from a spatially explicit, object-based assessment of elements at risk and compared potential distributional effects of three political jurisdictions. The paper already triggered the question of what might the potential impacts of natural hazard management for local communities be.

Thomas Thaler, Sally Priest (2014)

Partnership funding in flood risk management: new localism debate and policy in England. Area, 46 (4): 418-425. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12135.

The aim of this paper is to discuss the new funding regime for English flood risk management policy under the new policy paradigm. The key issue in the new policy agenda is to encourage the responsibilities of local authorities in flood risk management, which involve defining local strategies to manage local risks. This downscaling process in flood risk management has a series of consequences in the development of new governance structures and institutions as well as new working relations and intervention strategies. Nevertheless, the main problem is the gap between the downscaling of responsibility and the transfer of resources; in particular the question concerning funding and social capacity. In this way, the focus of policy discussion refers to two main aspects: (a) the equitable sharing of risk-burdens between public authorities, private companies and individuals and (b) how to encourage government agencies and nongovernment agents to take over responsibility for certain tasks from central government.

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