What are some concrete examples of measures that have been taken around the built environment to cope with weather extremes?
In the port city Rotterdam, for example, there is a water square
, a beautiful public space that has been designed in such a way that when there is heavy rainfall, the water does not immediately flow into the sewers, but can collect on the square.
Another example in Rotterdam is the underground water storage below a car parking garage. In the city centre, there is hardly any room to construct extra canals and it is often not possible to install separate sewers for rainwater and wastewater. This underground water storage offers a solution.
With money from the Delta Fund, we make these kinds of solutions possible. It will not make the whole of the Netherlands resistant to every weather extremity at once, but you have to start somewhere. It does need to pick up speed and I am making sure of that.
How can we continue to adapt to new circumstances?
We must remain alert, keep our knowledge up to date and continue to invest money, in other words, really pull out all the stops for a safe and liveable delta. Then you almost automatically come to the consequences of rising sea levels. One day, the sea along our coast may be two metres higher. The question is how fast that might happen.
With the Sea Level Rise Knowledge Programme
we are bringing together all the knowledge on this subject and reducing the uncertainties. For example, we want to know more about developments in Antarctica and their consequences for the Netherlands. But we also look at possible long-term solutions if the current strategies were to be no longer tenable.
We have four development perspectives on the drawing board. The first is based on how we do it now with open river mouths, supplemented by higher dunes, dikes and the Delta Works. The second possibility is to close off the river mouths, which means that you raise fewer dikes and create less room for the river, but you need more pumping capacity to guide high water in the rivers to the sea. There are also ideas for land reclamation and a strategy to create islands off the coast. The last perspective is culturally the most far-reaching and describes the withdrawal from some low-lying parts of the Netherlands. All this knowledge will be included in the six-yearly review of the Delta Programme in 2026.
All in all – the IPCC report, the Sea Level Rise Knowledge Programme, the increasing awareness of vulnerability combined with the will to persevere – we may arrive at far-reaching solutions for the longer term. Of course, in line with the Dutch tradition, we want to stay in control for as long as possible. Even if we change the strategy, we want to do so in a controlled manner.
I do not want to anticipate whether we will have to change the strategy, but that will be a pressing question in the coming years. We must move forward and adapt to new circumstances, but move forward with courage.
What does the Netherlands need to prevent the next flood or drought?
I would like to say: Every development should be climate proof. With every new development, we must ask ourselves whether it can withstand the extremes in order to prevent disruption. And if we do that together with municipalities, water boards, designers and residents, you can prevent a lot of misery and damage.
Every development being climate proof is a necessity. A standard that has to work in all kinds of ways. That means we have to think about the position of the water manager in spatial planning. We need to think about the requirements we can set for infrastructure and real estate in its entirety. It has to become less non-committal and more binding.
In the Netherlands, we may not be very keen on this, but the cost of inaction has to be taken into account, and it is very substantial. If we do nothing about climate change, we will incur EUR 170 billion worth of damage by 2050.
In the province of Limburg, the damage amounts to EUR 1.8 billion. In 2016, rain and hail storms in Eindhoven caused damages worth EUR 600 million. It has been calculated
that every euro invested in adaptation pays for itself four or five times over in avoided damage. We must therefore make every development climate proof. We must also embed this in our laws and procedures, and especially in our mindset.