National event in Utrecht kicks off Sea Level Rise Knowledge Programme

On Thursday, 5 March last, more than 140 delegates gathered in the Muntgebouw conference centre in Utrecht for the first national event of the Sea Level Rise Knowledge Programme. This programme, initiated by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management in collaboration with the Delta Programme Commissioner, is aimed at reducing the existing uncertainties regarding a potential acceleration in the pace at which the sea level is rising, and to find answers to the question as to how we can keep the Netherlands safe and liveable, now and in the future.

The attending delegates from bodies such as Rijkswaterstaat [the executive branch of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management], the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute KNMI, regional water authorities, and several universities and research institutes, were challenged to contribute ideas on the further substantiation of the knowledge programme and on the taskings facing our nation. The issues that were discussed included the potential consequences of the melting Antarctic ice cap for the Netherlands, the tenability of the current strategies, the exploration of strategies to continue to protect our country should the sea level rise more rapidly than expected, and the adaptations that this would require. One of the key goals of this event was to collectively set down subsequent steps and working agreements, thus kicking off the actual implementation of the knowledge programme.

Delta Programme Commissioner Peter Glas was extremely pleased with the representation of the youth dyke wardens and young professionals. ‘This is an issue that concerns them, considering that a potential acceleration in sea level rise will occur after 2050. I hope that by that time, they will look back on 5 March 2020 as an important start of the changes that have been made for 2050 and beyond.’

Titus Livius, the Deputy Director-General of Water and Soil Affairs of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, emphasised that an acceleration in sea level rise will affect a wide range of parties. In the period ahead, the Directorate-General will enter into collaboration with experts from other disciplines, such as spatial planning, agriculture, energy, and housing. Furthermore, the network will be expanded, and collaboration will be sought in all the regions of the Netherlands.

The Knowledge Programme will run up to and including 2025. Its progress will be reported in the annual Delta Programme. The Knowledge Programme will generate important information in the purview of decisions to be taken within the framework of the next six-year review of the Delta Programme, which will be incorporated into Delta Programme 2027. This first national event constituted an important milestone in the proper preparation of the Netherlands for the future, in order to ensure that our country will remain the safest delta in the world, even with a rising sea level.

Why a Sea Level Rise Knowledge Programme?

A large part of our country is situated below sea level, and many rivers find their way to the sea here. Thus, the Netherlands is prone to flooding and salinisation. Flood protection and securing a reliable supply of fresh water is and will remain vitally important for millions of Dutch residents, as well as for our economy.

Ever since the disastrous flood of 1953, the government has continuously invested in protection against flooding and high water. And for the past ten years, the Delta Programme has been in place to help the government look ahead to 2050, 2100, and beyond. Recent studies indicate that with effect from 2050, the sea level may be rising at a pace faster than its current rise of 2 mm per annum. In September 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) adopted a maximum rise in sea level of 110 cm by 2100 as its point of departure.

The government is taking the signals regarding an acceleration in sea level rise very seriously. There is no doubt that the sea level is rising, and this fact is being taken into account by the Delta Programme. Yet a great deal of uncertainty still exists regarding the extent to, and the pace at which, the sea level is rising. The expectations range from a 30 cm rise to a 3 m rise by 2100. That is why the Sea Level Rise Knowledge Programme was instituted. It will help us keep our protection up to par, thus allowing us to make the most of the time we have.

Over the next five years, the government will be collaborating with research institutes, businesses, planners, and NGOs within the framework of this Knowledge Programme in order to reduce the uncertainties that exist regarding the rising sea level. The programme is expected to generate answers to questions such as: What exactly is happening in Antarctica, and how can this impact the Netherlands? How can we protect ourselves against future flooding? How do we secure a sufficient supply of fresh water? We will also be exploring options to re-design our country in the future, in order to keep it safe and liveable, and the measures we will need to take now to accommodate such re-design, such as reserving room for future dyke improvements and sand extraction.

Being and remaining prepared is an ongoing process, on which the government and all the partners involved are working hard day in, day out. Thus, we can take the proper measures in a timely fashion, so that in the future, the Netherlands will continue to be the safest delta in the world.