“Climate change adaptation can only succeed if it can rely on broad societal support and if we have institutions and governance structures that support the swift implementation of necessary changes”: Marion Zilker interview

The complex challenge of adapting to climate change requires collaboration between many fields of expertise and the diverse approaches of different projects. ARSINOE is working closely with sister climate change adaptation projects IMPETUS, TransformAr and REGILIENCE. Together, these involve many inspiring people whose skills and experience contribute in various ways to creating resilience and adaptation tools, solutions and initiatives. We will share some of their stories as the projects progress.

For the International Women’s Day, we decided to interview some of the youngest and inspiring women in our projects. Today, we have spoken with Marion Zilker, project manager at VKU.

Please present yourself and your involvement in the ARSINOE project.

I work for the German Association of Local Public Utilities (VKU). The association is the political voice of local public utilities in Germany and we are a partner in ARSINOE. In the project, I primarily work on the case study in the Main River Basin. The region is at risk for being pushed beyond its resilience threshold and will need a new level of responsiveness to cope with climate change. With our partners, we apply the “ARSINOE approach” to the case study and give impulses for climate resilient development. On a day-to-day basis my tasks can vary quite a bit. They range from organising workshops for stakeholders, to desk research and summarising and disseminating results through different channels and there are some administrative tasks related to the project to name only a few things.

What is your educational background? What did you study? And what inspired you to pursue such education and led to the point of your career where you are now?

I studied political and administrative science at the University of Konstanz. Because I am a firm believer in the benefits of international cooperation and the EU in particular, I specialised in international relations and European integration during my master’s degree. I also did internships with organisations in Brussels and Berlin to get a closer look at how politics “work in real life” and found out that I really enjoyed the work done by interest groups: the analysing of policies, understanding their consequences and communicating them to decision-makers, arguing for certain policies. In addition, the diversity of issues I got to work on was exciting. I also talked to more seasoned colleagues about their professional experience. That’s how I found out I wanted to work in this domain. I applied at VKU after finishing my degree. There, I started working on issues concerning local public utilities from the water sector, including climate change mitigation and adaptation. When VKU became a partner in ARSINOE, I got my current role as project manager.

Why did you want to get involved in climate change adaptation projects?

We often take for granted that we can just open the tap and get as much fresh and clean water as we want at low cost. Yet, a lot goes into making that happen every day. When it became clear to me that climate change was a key challenge for the water sector I wanted to help in addressing it. I want the provision of basic public services to remain so good that most people do not have to worry about them and can just trust in them, despite climate change and its consequences.

How does your field of expertise complement other disciplines in the ARSINOE project?

Climate change adaptation can only succeed if it can rely on broad societal support and if we have institutions and governance structures that support the swift implementation of necessary changes. While other disciplines are able to improve our understanding of climate change and its physical consequences, offer fascinating technological solutions or insights into the economics driving adaptation, acknowledging and understanding the social and political sides of the challenge, moderating between different groups, fostering understanding and building communities that continue to work towards a climate resilient future is also important. I feel having a background in political science helps with that. Besides the mix of disciplines, I consider the diversity of partner organisations in ARSINOE a great benefit. Working for an association rather than a research institute or a university offers a different perspective and a different way of thinking about problems.

What do you feel has been your biggest achievement/contribution to date?

After the workshops in our living lab, stakeholders told us it was a unique forum to talk about climate resilience. They had not been part yet of a debate where so many different people from their region were present and got to lay out their view of the challenges connected to climate adaptation and discuss solutions. I am glad I was part of facilitating this.

From your perspective of your field of expertise, what is the biggest challenge now regarding our ability to adapt to climate change?

I am afraid it may be speed. We just had one of the hottest Februarys in 104 years in Bavaria. It is yet another worrying record in a long row of hottest months, hottest seasons and years. We need to limit climate change and at the same time adapt to changes that we can no longer prevent. Both tasks are huge. They require people acknowledging the problem, people supporting change, changes in our behaviour and thinking as well as the planning and building of infrastructures among other things. All of these things take time.

What makes you the most hopeful for the future?

When discussing climate change, we should not ignore how big of a threat it is and how catastrophic its consequences are, but we must not get lost in that. Let’s look at possible solutions, too. There are so many people working on them. They are what makes me hopeful.  Seeing activists fight for climate action, meeting experts who develop solutions to understand and deal with climate risks and getting to know people who work on climate change mitigation, there are so many smart and passionate people working on ensuring a liveable future.