2024 Delta Programme
The latest scientific insights from the IPCC and the floods in Limburg, Germany and Belgium in 2021 demonstrate that climate change is – unfortunately – also becoming increasingly manifest in our part of the world. Extreme rainfall, floods, heat waves, periods of drought and sea level rise are more and more common. Climate change is also accelerating and the consequences are more far-reaching than we assumed until recently. However, by focusing on mitigation and adaptation, we can maintain prospects for the future.
The faster we reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation), the more time there will be to keep the consequences of climate change manageable. And the sooner we adapt spatial planning to the new climate (adaptation), the less vulnerable we will be to damage. The Delta Programme describes how the Netherlands will deliver sound flood risk management, freshwater availability and spatial adaptation through these strategies. The 2024 Delta Programme describes the progress made in the period 2022-2023 and the measures planned for the years ahead.
In several areas, the limits of the approach involving managing the water and soil system in technical ways have been reached. This is already a factor in, for example, the high-lying areas of the country with sandy soils, where water shortages are causing major problems, and in the peatland areas, where salinisation can no longer be prevented in some places. So we cannot continue down this road; if we do, the process will get bogged down. It is therefore important to realise that not everything is possible, nor can everything be done the way we do it now. Clear decisions must therefore be made and limits must be set on land use and water use. Otherwise, the challenge will become even more daunting. Some decisions have to be made now about water management and spatial planning to cope with increasingly extreme weather; there is more time for others.
In the years ahead, the regions will also have to work on major agendas such as housing construction and the agricultural transition. In order to respect the limits of the natural environment during this process, it is very important to work with the principle Water and Soil as Leading Factors. The goal here is to make sure we do not exceed the limits of the water and soil system so that land use remains sustainable. Spatial planning decisions based on water and soil can provide the right frameworks and boundary conditions for what needs to be done regionally. This is why Water and Soil as Leading Factors is used in, among other things, the new National Spatial Policy Document and policy decisions about spatial planning in the Netherlands. From the outset, the Delta Programme has been working in the spirit of Water and Soil as Leading Factors with respect to spatial planning choices. This principle is of paramount importance for the Delta Programme because the goals that have been set can be achieved only if Water and Soil as Leading Factors is truly included in all spatial agendas.
So it is essential to speed up our response. Decisions we make now will have a major effect on the safety and living conditions of generations to come. For the long term, 2050 is the first major milestone for the Delta Programme: the Netherlands must be water-robust and climate-resilient by then. But that isn’t all: the country must also be ready for any adjustments that may be needed later, not only from 2050 onwards but also beyond 2100. Because climate change will continue.
The Delta Programme itself wants to speed up the implementation of its own objectives for flood risk management, freshwater availability and spatial adaptation. Particularly in the areas of fresh water and spatial adaptation, the effects of climate change are already being felt and we need to move faster. The 2024 Delta Programme explains how this challenge is being addressed. Accelerated climate resilience and water robustness in other domains, such as housing, agriculture and rural development, are also Delta Programme priorities. This requires broad-based and sizeable operational capacity at the regional level.
Grip on volatility
Climate change is increasingly evident in more volatile weather with cloudbursts, heat waves, drought, floods and accelerating sea level rise. Moreover, the consequences are more far-reaching than previously anticipated. New insights and concrete measures are needed to get to grips better with this volatility and uncertainty. It is important here not to lose sight of the long term as a result of the focus on the short term, for example because of emergencies.
The Delta Programme contributes here by conducting regular reviews of the possible solutions for a safe and climate-resilient delta in a structured way and on the basis of new knowledge and insights. For this purpose, the process for the second six-year periodical evaluation began in 2023. That will result, in 2026, in proposals for the adaptation or amendment of Delta Decisions and regional preferred strategies.
The second periodical evaluation will be based in part on new climate scenarios from the KNMI (the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute) and new scenarios for Welfare and the Living Environment (WLO) from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, both of which will be published in late 2023. The results of the Sea Level Rise Knowledge Programme are also important as a basis for the periodical evaluation. This periodical evaluation of Delta Decisions and preferred strategies interacts with other agendas in different regions. Proposals must therefore be developed in conjunction with other areas and agendas. Fundamental longer-term system changes may also be needed to make infrastructure and spatial planning climate-resilient and robust.
Every year, the Delta Programme Signal Group advises the Delta Commissioner about scientific and social insights, and trends that are relevant for the Delta Programme. In 2022, the Signal Group discussed the increasing levels of volatility in the confluence and cascade effects of climate change. To make a better assessment possible of the regional impact of climate change and be well prepared, regional stress tests were conducted for spatial adaptation and freshwater supplies. Work is taking place on supra-regional stress tests and risk dialogues.
Flood protection programme
Dike upgrades will be needed between now and 2050, and all primary flood defences have therefore been assessed. A total of 1,500 kilometres of dike require strengthening, as well as 426 engineering structures serving as flood defences. The Flood Protection Programme (HWBP) has not yet reached the target completion rate, but the ambition to upgrade 50 kilometres of dike annually is expected to be attained by 2026. A total of 196 kilometres of dike and 51 structures have now been upgraded or declared safe. At present, approximately 100 dike upgrade projects are in the preparatory stages or being implemented, accounting for 814 kilometres of dike and 317 engineering structures.
Coordination and connections
All the urgent agendas meet in the regions: housing construction, nitrogen deposition and nature, the energy transition and climate adaptation. These agendas, transitions and adaptations place major demands on the limited space in the Netherlands. Since all these matters are also interrelated, spatial planning solutions must serve multiple agendas wherever possible.
The Water and Soil as Leading Factors strategy can be put to good use for connecting these agendas. The role of the Delta Programme here is to sketch a picture of the long-term climate challenges, including those at the supra-regional level, and to encourage dialogue between all partners. The solutions in the different regions are not separate from one another, for example in the case of flood risk management in the river area. That is why the Integrated River Management (IRM) programme brings together partners from different regions in both the public and private sectors.
Parties are also working outside the Delta Programme on decisions that will have consequences for long-term spatial development, such as a range of programmes at the national government, knowledge institutes and other non-governmental organisations. New knowledge and insights may be relevant for specific regions or the Delta Programme in general. Where necessary, the Delta Programme also establishes connections with those external organisations in order to arrive at coordinated solutions for the challenges we face. In this way, project implementation can also be adjusted in good time and Delta Decisions and preferential strategies can also be re-evaluated faster.
Delta Commissioner’s recommendations accompanying DP 2024
In a letter accompanying the 2024 Delta Programme, the Delta Commissioner looks back at recommendations from previous years. He also considers the current situation, arriving at five recommendations on that basis.
First, the Delta Commissioner recommends using generational testing for spatial planning decisions. The request to do this came from the Young Climate Movement, which is advocating the inclusion of young people in decision-making to avoid, as much as possible, passing problems on to future generations. The Delta Commissioner also recommends the more intensive involvement of citizens in general, not only to establish more support for decisions but also to bring in much more experience, brainpower and ideas to the Delta Programme.
A third recommendation is to make clearer choices in both the short and longer terms with the aim of ensuring that solutions are not obstructed or rendered more difficult in the future. This will be seen in concrete terms during the periodical evaluation of the current Delta Decisions and preferred strategies, during which process a fundamental look will be taken at other policy options. In his accompanying letter, the Delta Commissioner already sets a good example by describing a number of very concrete decisions and recommendations. For example, earmark space for storing water during urban expansion projects, be critical about new water consumers, and avoid using land in ways that are not sustainable. There is a particular focus on the protection of groundwater stocks and the transnational nature of agendas for groundwater and surface water.
The fourth recommendation relates to broadening the scope. The current preferred strategies and Delta Decisions were developed with a large number of different parties, but they are strongly rooted in the water domain. Because the functions of the water system and land use are closely interrelated, more connections are needed, for example with the construction agenda and the National Programme for Rural Areas (NPLG). These links can be facilitated well by using relevant recommendations to emerge from the consultation structure and operational capacity of the Delta Programme.
Finally, implementation in the regions must acquire a central position, and collaboration at the national level must serve that purpose. Here again, the recommendation is to work in the spirit of Water and Soil as Leading Factors, and anticipate as much as possible with the tools that are now available. It is important to consider both new developments and current challenges in the built environment. Provinces, municipalities and other partners in the Delta Programme will therefore have to be decisive and make clear choices, with the interests of the regions playing a central role.
Knowledge Programme for Cross-Border River Discharges and Discharge Distribution
Sea level rise
The possible accelerated sea level rise will eventually have a major impact on the agenda for flood risk management and freshwater supplies. The partners of the Delta Programme have initiated analyses as part of the Sea Level Rise Knowledge Programme: how tenable and flexible are the regional strategies in place? For each area, the Delta Prograsmme explores the consequences of extreme sea level rise, the options for the short and long terms, and the possible interaction with the investment agendas for renewable energy, housing construction, infrastructure, agriculture and nature. The interim report for the first research phase is now available. It states that sea level rise is exacerbating salinisation, and that water demand will have to increase in response. Sea level rise means that more and more sand will be needed in the future to keep the coastline in its present position. The interim results of the knowledge programme will be published in 2023.
The knowledge programme will continue in a second phase (2024-2026). The focus here will be on adjustments to make existing strategies for tackling the effects of sea level rise tenable for longer.
Pluvial and River Flooding Policy Platform
In July 2021, there was extreme rainfall in an area half the size of the Netherlands. The result was severe flooding and problems with water in Limburg, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. The Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management decided to establish a Pluvial and River Flooding Policy Platform (which is referred to elsewhere on this site as the Flooding Policy Platform) with the aim of learning from the situation in Limburg. The first report from the policy platform states that our water systems, spatial planning and crisis management cannot prevent problems with water during such extreme precipitation events. However, it is possible to limit the damage and social disruption.
The second report sets out the policy platform’s final recommendations. They include expanding the principle of multilayer safety from three to five layers (see page 20/21 of the State of Our Water Report). The proposal is to add an additional, fourth layer – ‘recovery’ – and an integrated basic layer – ‘water awareness’. Another recommendation is to conduct supra-regional stress tests in addition to the existing regional stress tests in order to enhance our understanding of the impact of extreme water events on various locations or infrastructure.
Integrated River Management Programme
In this programme, the national and regional government authorities are working on an integrated vision for the river area. In 2021, work began on the development of a vision of the future for two river sections. The evaluation of this exercise resulted in a periodical evaluation of the IRM in 2022: policy decisions and frameworks will be set out in a Programme under the Environment Act (POW) in 2024. The policy decisions are expected to be available for viewing in a draft programme under the Environment Act (POW-IRM) in early 2024 prior to their subsequent adoption. It will set out the vision for the river area, collaboration agreements and policy decisions about future discharge capacity and riverbed location.
Progress per theme
Flood risk management
Primary flood defences (dikes, dams, storm surge barriers, and dunes) protect the Netherlands against flooding from the sea, major rivers, and large lakes. All the primary defences in the Netherlands are required to meet new standards by 2050. This means that: the base level of protection must be in place by 2050 for everyone in the Netherlands. The water authorities and Rijkswaterstaat have developed maps that show that 62% of the flood defences currently fall short of the flood risk management standards to be achieved by 2050. This is a high percentage but it is in line with expectations. Decisions are taken on the basis of this assessment about which parts of a dike should actually be upgraded. This will usually involve work on a section rather than the entire dike. A clearer picture of the overall agenda will emerge by the end of 2023.
About 100 dike upgrade projects, representing 814 kilometres of dike and 317 other engineering structures, are planned for 2024-2035. One of the larger dike upgrade operations is the strengthening of the Afsluitdijk barrier dam.
Enough space is needed around dikes, dams, dunes and flood-defence structures for upgrade operations, even after 2050. On the basis of the most recent information from the Sea Level Rise Knowledge Programme, the relevant space for the primary flood defences (dikes and coast) is are being updated. The purpose of the updates is to streamline the earmarked zones and make them future-resilient so that dike and coast upgrades remain possible in the future. The spatial plans and instruments of municipalities and provinces will be adjusted accordingly.
In addition, in the future, building will no longer be allowed in the floodplains covered by the Major Rivers Policy. This decision ensures that new building activities will not obstruct plans for making rivers more future-resilient, or make those plans more expensive. This measure will also prevent a further increase in damage during high water or floods.
Freshwater supplies must be adequate to cope with long dry periods. That was seen once again after the dry spring of 2020 and the dry summer of 2022. A priority sequence for regional water management was introduced during the periodical evaluation of the Delta Programme in 2020: spatial planning must take into consideration water availability, the economic use of water, water retention, the smart allocation of water and accepting damage. These guiding principles have now also been included in the National Environment Planning Vision (NOVI) and the draft National Water Programme for 2022-2027 (NWP). A new Spatial Policy Document is expected in 2024. It will replace the NOVI. It is very important for the Netherlands to be resilient to water shortages by 2050.
The implementation of phase 1 of the Freshwater Delta Plan has now been completed. A total of 51 measures were implemented during the period 2015-2022. The execution of the measures for the second phase of the Freshwater Delta Plan has also begun. They are intended to make water supplies through the main water system and the regional system more climate-resilient. All the regions are working on resilience to water shortages; the emphasis is on water retention. The other measures focus on the more effective and efficient distribution of the available fresh water, the use of alternative sources, the more robust/climate-robust structuring and management of the water system, and innovations in, among other things, agriculture.
In the second phase, the package of measures will amount to 800 million euros in the period 2022-2027. For the investment package, 250 million euros will be financed from the Delta Fund and 550 million euros by provincial and municipal authorities, water authorities and other parties, including drinking water companies. More than half of the investments are planned for the High-Lying Areas with Sandy Soils.
The Climate-Resilient Freshwater Supplies in the Main Water System (KZH) strategy has been drawn up for the main water system. The aim of the KZH is to use the Rhine and Meuse water more efficiently and to allocate the water during times of scarcity on the basis of requirements and measurements.
It is crucial to coordinate freshwater demand and supply. All the sectors that need water, such as industry and agriculture, must start to work on smart recycling solutions and reducing water use. Drinking water supplies – for the growing population and economic developments – will already be under pressure by 2030 due to the limited availability of good-quality water/groundwater.
Stress tests, risk dialogues and implementation agendas
The vast majority of water authorities, and provincial and municipal authorities, have conducted stress tests to identify vulnerabilities to extreme weather. Risk dialogues have also been completed and implementation agendas have been established almost everywhere. In early 2022, a survey was completed of the progress of the work in the regions. This shows that the main challenges in the field of spatial adaptation are the large number of claims on space, and the capacity required for the steps to be taken and for the implementation of concrete projects.
Rijkswaterstaat and ProRail also completed their stress tests and risk dialogues in 2021. Rijkswaterstaat’s results for the main road and waterway networks and the main water system have been incorporated in the Rijkswaterstaat Climate Impact Atlas and the Implementation Agenda for Climate-Resilient Networks. The results for the rail network can be found in the ProRail Climate Impact Atlas.
National Approach to Climate Adaptation in the Built Environment
New frameworks for climate adaptation are being developed at the national level. The National Yardstick for a green climate-adaptive built environment, for example, has been developed for this purpose. The National Yardstick is an elaboration of the National Approach to Climate Adaptation in the Built Environment of the Ministries of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK), Infrastructure and Water Management (I&W) and Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV). In addition to themes from the Delta Programme for Spatial Adaptation (mitigating the consequences of flooding, problems with excess water, heat and water shortages), the National Yardstick also focuses on land subsidence and biodiversity. Furthermore, the national government is working on a spatial assessment framework for climate-adaptive site selection in which Water and Soil will be the leading factors.
The Climate Adaptation Stimulus Scheme went into effect on 1 January 2021. This scheme is intended for measures in the period 2021-2027. A working region (or combination of working regions) may submit a proposal. This provisional (2021-2027: € 200 million from national government and two-thirds in co-financing from the regions) Stimulus Scheme from the national government is on track: as at year-end 2022, € 117 million of the € 200 million had already been allocated. 2023 is the last year for applications for this stimulus scheme. In part because of the existence of the scheme, municipalities, provinces and water authorities are introducing measures across the board that contribute to the goals of the Delta Programme for Spatial Adaptation. As a result, interest in implementing climate-adaptive measures is growing and collaborative structures at the local and regional levels are being further strengthened.
The Delta Programme for Spatial Adaptation will go to work from 2023 onwards to look at the possible options for the structural financing of climate adaptation (on several scales) after the end of the stimulus scheme.