Dutch Delta Congress in Haarlem: "Let’s get on with it!"

Accelerating climate adaptation: what are the options? How can we connect major challenges? How can we meet current spatial demands and reserve space for future measures? These were some of the questions addressed at the thirteenth Dutch Delta Congress, held on November 10, 2022 in the Philharmonie Theatre in Haarlem.

More than one thousand professionals met in the old town of Haarlem: representatives of governments, companies, research institutions and civil society organisations. Another 700 participants followed the meeting online. The theme was ‘speed up, connect and reconstruct’. “We have to step up our efforts if we are to realise the ambitions of the Delta Programme”, said Delta Commissioner Peter Glas. “We have to go all out. We can do this – together. That is the strength of the Netherlands. The natural processes of water and soil will be our guiding principles.”

Actiefoto van het Deltacongres
Image: Valerie Kuypers/Martijn Beekman
Peter Glas welcoming the guests.

Reality now

“Connecting challenges and connecting people: that’s what this is about”, said chair Brecht van Hulten during the plenary opening.

“In the Netherlands we’ve always trusted our ability to shape our landscape”, said Mark Harbers, Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, “but now history is catching up with us. The extremely dry summers of recent years and the flooding in Limburg are not accidental excesses. The threat of more extreme weather is increasing rapidly. This is not a future scenario – no, this is a reality now.”

If we fail to act, the effects will be disruptive – and they will be tangible, in our vulnerable delta, according to the minister. “We are no longer total masters of our land and water. We are reaching the limits. We have to start listening to what water and soil dictate. What benefits them will also benefit us.”

Foto van zaal in Philharmonie
Image: Valerie Kuypers/Martijn Beekman
A filled Philharmonie during the Dutch Delta Congress.

The cost of inaction

Keynote speaker Sandra Phlippen, chief economist at ABN AMRO Bank, explained that climate change poses significant economic risks, ranging from loss of property value to declines in production and consumption. “Current policies do not seem adequate to avert problems”, she said.

We need holistic risk scenarios, which weigh the costs of inaction against the costs of effective adaptation measures, Phlippen said. “Detailed data play an important role in this context”, she emphasised. “We should recognise that neither areas nor sectors are necessarily uniform. Perhaps some aspects of them are more resilient than we think. Realising this may prevent economic losses.”

Delta Movie

The new annual Delta Movie premiered during the Delta Congress, entitled ‘Climate change: the future is now’. Three teenagers visited some large-scale climate adaptation projects in the Netherlands and shared their vision on climate change. “Let’s get off the couch”, said Fien (17 years old), “and get on with it!”

Ray of Sunshine’ Award

An annual tradition at the Dutch Delta Congress is the presentation of the ‘Ray of Sunshine’, an award for an innovative and inspiring project within the Delta Programme. This year the nominees were: Climate-adaptive renovation of the Zwolle railway station area, East Netherlands Freshwater Supply and the Wide Green Dyke in Northeast Groningen. Delta Commissioner Peter Glas presented the Ray of Sunshine to the project team of the Wide Green Dyke, which is a kilometre-long coastal defence wall along the Dollard Estuary that has been reinforced with locally sourced, saline dredging sludge.

Foto van de uitreiking van het Zonnetje 2022
Image: Valerie Kuypers/Martijn Beekman

Parallel sessions

In the afternoon, parallel sessions were held on a variety of subjects. These included presentations by experts, panel discussions and online polls. The audience actively took part in the discussions, both in the rooms and online.

Vibrant atmosphere

The Delta Congress was not limited to the conference rooms. There was also plenty of interaction in the corridors. Interviews with water professionals were held throughout the day, which could be followed via screens and online, and there were meetings between young professionals and seniors from the water sector. 

Delta Commissioner Peter Glas was presented with the first copy of the annual project book of the Dutch Flood Protection Programme, which was published under the theme ‘innovating together’. Also, in the central hall, participants met in an informal setting during the breaks. “A vibrant atmosphere”, said one participant. “This congress is always something to look forward to.”

The report of the thirteenth Dutch Delta Congress will be published on 17 November.