Does the adaptive strategy entail the risk of measures being implemented too late?

It is important for the new Cabinet to be aware of the consequences of climate change in terms of the physical safety and liveability of the Netherlands. Since 2010, the Delta Programme has been addressing water issues and spatial planning in order to prepare the Netherlands for such consequences. A Delta Fund has been set up, providing some 1 billion euros annually to fund all the measures. The Delta Programme Commissioner coordinates the efforts at the national level. Every year, a progress report is drawn up, outlining concrete projects for the years ahead. The investments scheduled for the period up to 2050 cover some 26 billion euros.

History teaches that the work on the delta is never done and requires continuous attention and efforts. Since 2010, we have been anticipating developments and focusing attention on the prevention of disasters and damage, rather than responding if things go wrong, as we used to do in the past. This involves a major historical change, which is unique in the world, yet essential in this low-lying country.

Many stakeholders are calling for attention to be paid to the approach and to the long term and are submitting suggestions and views to this end. At multiple locations in the Netherlands, many people are contributing to finding potential solutions, based on their expertise, involvement, and background, which we greatly appreciate. The Delta Programme Commissioner works on an inclusive basis and takes sound plans and ideas into account in the work that he is doing in collaboration with Ministries, Rijkswaterstaat, district water boards, municipalities, and provinces. This work is focused on the goals as set down in law.

The Delta Programme is based on a long-term vision and has adopted – in part on account of the uncertainties involved – an adaptive approach. Every year, we assess whether we are on schedule and whether we need to adjust our course. The long-term vision is to keep our country, our delta liveable and habitable, and in more concrete terms, to provide all residents with a basic safety level, i.e., the individual risk of fatality due to flooding must not exceed 1/100,000 per annum. This high statutory protection level has been in force since 1 January of this year. By no later than 2050, all the dykes, dams, and flood defences must meet this standard.

This long-term vision can be realised in several ways. Under the adaptive Delta Programme approach, we have developed, in collaboration with the governments and stakeholders concerned, several sets of measures that are geared to the specific water taskings, the natural dynamics, and their interconnectivity. We continuously monitor which short-term actions are required and which options we need to keep open for the future. This is not a matter of putting off; it is doing what needs to be done and being ready to shift up a gear. This means we have larger-scale plans ready. Thus, we are factoring in the major uncertainties over a period of one hundred years and the fact that after all, we can only spend our money once, while we still need to secure the safety of our population.

For example, one of the conclusions drawn by the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment with respect to the Maeslant storm surge barrier was that currently, there is no reason for a short-term investment in the replacement of the barrier by a sea lock that will close off the Nieuwe Waterweg, yet this option must be kept open when the replacement of the storm surge barrier after 2040 is agendised, or if circumstances – such as the rising sea level – would prompt such replacement at an earlier date. This would involve a major system intervention.

The future of storm surge barriers such as the Oosterschelde barrier is approached similarly. The IJsselmeer Closure Dam (Afsluitdijk) which dates from 1932 is currently undergoing major improvements.

Ergo, under the Delta Programme, we are keeping a finger on the pulse in terms of weather extremes, river discharges, and the rising sea level, so that we can agendise this type of decisions at an earlier date if so prompted, for example, in the event of new indications or insights regarding an accelerated rise in sea level. This is not yet the case.

Within the Delta Programme, we are collaborating with the managing authority Rijkswaterstaat, the district water boards, and knowledge institutes such as the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute KNMI, Deltares, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency PBL, and universities, and with other governments concerned. In our efforts, we are factoring in the time – in some cases, decades – required to elaborate and implement the plans. The basis for all our efforts is a situation in which our residents and our economy are excellently protected.