Research Associate – Multi-risk adaptation pathways

United Nations University (UNU)

Bonn, Germany 🇩🇪

Job description

The United Nations University (UNU)

 is an international community of scholars engaged in policy-oriented research, capacity development and dissemination of knowledge, furthering the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. The mission of UNU is to contribute, through research and capacity building, to efforts to resolve the pressing global problems that are the concern of the United Nations and its Member States.

For the past four decades, UNU has been a go-to think tank for impartial research on human survival, conflict prevention, sustainable development, and welfare. With more than 400 researchers in 12 countries, UNU’s work spans the 17 Sustainable Development Goals’ full breadth, generating policy-relevant knowledge to effect positive global change. UNU maintains more than 200 collaborations with UN agencies and leading universities and research institutions across the globe. For more information, please visit

United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS):

UNU-EHS, established in December 2003, is part of the UNU system, a worldwide network of Research and Training Institutes. Its mission is to advance human security through knowledge-based approaches to reducing vulnerability and environmental risks. For more information, please visit

Vulnerability Assessment, Risk Management & Adaptive Planning (VARMAP) division:

The VARMAP division conducts policy-oriented research on systemic risks and pathways to sustainability in the context of climate change. Its vision is to provide actionable knowledge for climate-resilient futures. VARMAP has a strong track record in developing and applying conceptual frameworks to understand the complex nature of risks. VARMAP explores opportunities for risk reduction and examines diverse adaptation options and pathways towards sustainability and resilient societies. Supporting informed decision-making by digital means and ensuring an inclusive and just digitalization is of growing importance in VARMAP’s work. VARMAP helps to implement the UN’s 2030 Development Agenda, the Sendai Framework, the Paris Agreement and other sustainability-oriented international initiatives. VARMAP convenes an interdisciplinary team and works with a wide network of partners from science and practice. The division draws on mixed methods approaches, integrating qualitative and quantitative tools. It unites a global orientation with empirical work in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

The GreenAdapt2Extremes project:

The aim of the GreenAdapt2Extremes project, a 3-year project under the JPI Water4All initiative, is to co-create green adaptation pathways with diverse stakeholder groups for safeguarding water security for all, strengthening resilience and nature conservation in light of increasing extreme flood and drought events. Overall, GreenAdapt2Extremes will (i) co-create visions for resilient basin futures, (ii) assess the root causes, drivers, dynamics and interconnections of current and future multi-risks for ecosystems, economic sectors and people linked to floods and droughts (also through the development of conceptual models of risks), (iii) identify adaptation options and co-create ‘green adaptation pathways’ at the catchment scale with a particular focus on Nature-based Solutions (NbS), (iv) evaluate adaptation options and pathways in regards to their social acceptance, equity, disaster risk reduction benefits, limits, co-benefits and maladaptive consequences while also considering enablers and barriers for the implementation of NbS, (v) map existing governance structures and co-create suggestions for multi-level water governance, and (vi) foster international cooperation, collaborative learning and knowledge transfer. Of these activities, UNU-EHS will lead (iii), (iv) and (vi) and significantly contribute to (i) and (ii). In particular, the VARMAP division will take a leading role in the development of conceptual models of risks (including identification of drivers of flood and drought risks); the assessment of these risks; and the identification, development and evaluation of adaptation options and of multi-risk adaptation pathways. GreenAdapt2Extremes will work closely with relevant stakeholders in three highly flood- and drought-prone river basins: the Dora Baltea basin (Italy), the Erft basin (Germany) and the Geul basin (Netherlands).

The ElbExtreme project:

The ElbExtreme project, a 3-year project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), uses the Elbe estuary coastal system in Germany as a “real-world laboratory” to examine the consequences of extreme events and the associated risks for estuarine ecosystems and communities. Data from the relevant measurement infrastructure in the area will be integrated into new observation strategies for determining the physical, chemical and biological conditions during extreme events and into coupled models (Elbe Digital Twin) to model future risks to people and ecosystems during and after extreme events. UNU-EHS is tasked with understanding adaptation priorities of local stakeholders, assessing key risks related to extreme weather events, and identifying potential impacts on key ecosystems and ecosystem services as well as for communities and relevant sectors in the Elbe via engagement with local stakeholders and expert groups. The development of a conceptual risk models for the Elbe, using the impact web/impact chain approach, will form the basis of co-designing adaptation options for extreme events in the marine, coastal and estuary areas of the Elbe during a planned phase II (years 4-6) of the project.

Additional information:

Both projects will be implemented in close collaboration between the “Vulnerability Assessment, Risk Management and Adaptive Planning” (VARMAP) and the “Environmental Vulnerability & Ecosystem Services” (EVES) divisions of UNU-EHS. This position is intended to support the VARMAP contributions to both projects.

We are looking for an early career candidate with a strong interest in pursuing a PhD in the context of the two projects.


Under the authority of the Vice-Rector/Director of UNU-EHS and the direct co-supervision of the Head of the VARMAP division and the Academic Officer/PI of the two projects, the successful candidate will be entrusted with the following tasks:

1. Conduct research for the GreenAdapt2Extremes project

  • Contribute to co-creating visions for resilient basin futures in the three case study catchments through co-creation workshops with relevant stakeholders;
  • Undertake desk study and expert/stakeholder consultation to identify relevant drivers of flood and drought risks for people, ecosystems and relevant sectors in the case study basins;
  • Develop and validate conceptual risk models (i.e. impact chains & impact webs) for flood and drought risks (considering their possible interactions) in all three case study catchments based on desk study and expert consultations;
  • Support the assessment of current flood and drought risks and the co-development of storylines of future risks in the Erft catchment (Germany);
  • Identify possible adaptation options and co-create multi-risk adaptation pathways for floods and droughts in the case study catchments;
  • Support the evaluation of adaptation options and the appraisal of co-created adaptation pathways (e.g. in terms of the risk reduction benefits, their limits, social acceptance, etc.).

2. Conduct research for the ElbExtremes project

  • Support the identification and prioritization of key risks for people, ecosystems and relevant sectors linked to extreme events in the case study area as part of a participatory stakeholder approach;
  • Undertake desk study and expert consultation to identify relevant drivers for identified key risks linked to extreme events in the case study area;
  • Develop and validate conceptual models of risk (i.e. impact chains & impact webs) for people, ecosystems and relevant sectors connected to extreme events in the case study area based on desk study and expert consultations;
  • Support the identification of entry points for adaptation based on the conceptual risk models, including possible co-benefits and trade-offs of possible options;

3. Contribute to scientific outputs and dissemination of findings

  • (Co)author scientific publications, policy briefs and reports;
  • Disseminate findings at relevant conferences and events;
  • The development of a PhD proposal and PhD is highly encouraged;

4. Support project management, stakeholder engagement and administration

  • Support project management and administration (incl. co-organization and documentation of project events and reporting);
  • Contribute to planned networking, participatory stakeholder engagement and capacity strengthening activities in the two projects.

5. Perform other duties as assigned by supervisor

Key Performance Indicators

  • Quality of innovative research in the domain of climate risks and adaptation pathways
  • Timely and quality collection and analysis of relevant data and information
  • Timely and quality delivery on milestones and deliverables in the GreenAdapt2Extremes and ElbExtreme projects
  • Quality and level of engagement with project team, consortium partners and stakeholders



  • Inclusion – Take action to create an environment of dignity and respect for all, regardless of age, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, gender expression, geography, grade, language, nationality, racial identity, religion, sex, sex characteristics, sexual orientation, social origin or any other aspect of identity.
  • Integrity – Act ethically, demonstrating the standards of conduct of the United Nations and taking prompt action in case of witnessing unprofessional or unethical behaviour, or any other breach of UN standards.
  • Humility – Demonstrate self-awareness and willingness to learn from others.
  • Humanity – Act according to the purposes of the United Nations: peace, dignity and equality on a healthy planet.


  • Connect and Collaborate – Build positive relationships with others to advance the work of the United Nations and work coherently as One UN
  • Analyse and Plan – Seek out and use data from a wide range of sources to understand problems, inform decision-making, propose evidence-based solutions and plan action
  • Deliver Results with Positive Impact – Hold oneself and others accountable for delivering results and making a positive difference to the people and causes that the United Nations serves
  • Learn and Develop – Pursue own learning and development and contribute to the learning and development of others
  • Adapt and Innovate – Demonstrate flexibility, agility and the ability to think and act in novel ways


Education and certification

Completed Master’s degree or equivalent in environmental, natural or social sciences, geography, climate impact studies, adaptation or another related field

Required skills and experience

Required experience:

  • Relevant work experience (1 year desirable) in the field of adaptation and/or risk research with particular focus on floods and droughts, some of which preferably in an international setting;
  • Familiarity with risk, adaptation and pathways concepts;

Desired experience:

  • Familiarity with nature-based solutions or ecosystem-based adaptation is an asset
  • Experience in drafting reports and/or scientific publications is an asset
  • Experience in conducting research on climate risks and/or adaptation in Germany is an asset
  • Other Desirable Skills working with stakeholders in participatory settings: initiative seeker; strong ability to carry out work independently; curious personality; team player with strong interpersonal skills demonstrated by the ability to work in a multi-cultural environment with sensitivity and respect for diversity.

Language Requirements:

  • Fluency in English is required
  • Knowledge of German is a strong asset
  • Knowledge of another UN official working language is an asset


The successful candidate will be employed under an national PSA contract. UNU offers an attractive compensation package including an annual net salary, commensurate with the experience and qualifications of the candidate. Benefits include 30 days annual leave and a health insurance scheme.

UNU is not liable for any taxes that may be levied on the remuneration you receive under this contract. Payment of any such taxes remains the sole responsibility of PSA holders.

Duration of contract

The duration of the initial contract is 1 year. This is Personnel Service Agreement (PSA) contract with UNU, with the possibility for renewal subject to requirements and satisfactory work performance. The combined duration on a PSA contract with UNU may not exceed six (6) years. The mandatory age of retirement for PSA holders is 65 years.

This post is open to applicants from all countries and UNU will aid the successful applicant in securing a work visa for Germany, as necessary. It is, however, a locally recruited post and no relocation allowances apply. The duty station will be Bonn, Germany.

Starting date: As soon as possible

How to Apply

To apply to UNU, you will not need an account. Instead, we ask that you:

  • fill out the UNU P11 Form (please avoid using similar forms provided by other United Nations organisations);
  • provide a motivation statement (in the P11 form);
  • provide a cover letter setting out how the qualifications and experience match the requirements of the position;
  • answer a few questions that are tailored to the position; andYou may wish to refer to the UN Values and Behaviours Framework for more information.
  • Apply via the apply link;

Application Deadline: 11 March 2024


Evaluation of qualified candidates may include an assessment exercise which may be followed by a competency-based interview, background checks, and references.

Special Notice

Staff members of the United Nations University are international civil servants subject to the Rector’s authority. They may be assigned to any of the activities or offices of the United Nations University. The Rector reserves the right to appoint a candidate at a level below that advertised. UNU is committed to diversity and inclusion within its workforce, and encourages all candidates, irrespective of gender, nationality, religious and ethnic backgrounds, including persons living with disabilities to apply and become part of the organisation. Applications from developing countries, and from women are strongly encouraged. Eligible internal applicants are also encouraged to apply. UNU has a zero-tolerance policy on conduct that is incompatible with the aims and objectives of the United Nations and UNU, including sexual exploitation and abuse, sexual harassment, abuse of authority and discrimination.

If you have supervisory function you need to have awareness on gender related issues.

Information about UNU rosters

UNU reserves the right to select one or more candidates from this vacancy announcement. We may also retain applications and consider candidates applying to this post for other similar positions with UNU at the same grade level and with similar job description, experience and educational requirements.

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