Delta Decision for Spatial Adaptation

The Netherlands is a densely-populated and low-lying country. We are therefore particularly vulnerable to the consequences of extreme weather and climate change: problems with excess water, heat, drought, and floods. The risk of damage in urban and rural areas is increasing. The Delta Decision for Spatial Adaptation stipulates that the Netherlands must be water-robust and climate-resilient by 2050. 

Municipal and provincial authorities, water authorities, and the national government are working with private parties to keep damage caused by heat, problems with excess water, drought and floods to a minimum. They take climate change into consideration in matters such as the construction of new housing estates and business parks, the renovation of buildings, the replacement of sewers and road maintenance. In doing so, they use information about how the climate is evolving: the climate scenarios. 

Intermediate goals

A climate-resilient and water-robust country by 2050 sounds a long way off. Two intermediate goals have therefore been adopted. Since 2020, climate-resilient and water-robust planning have to be embedded in all the policies and actions of the parties. Examples here include the environment visions and the associated spatial developments. Government authorities analyse the vulnerability level in their own areas by conducting stress tests (this is the ‘analysis’ phase). The results of this analysis are discussed in a risk dialogue with all the relevant partners and formulated as an adaptation strategy with specific goals and the associated measures (the ‘ambition’ phase). Finally, this ambition is embedded in an implementation agenda, other programmes, frameworks, and legislation and regulations (the ‘action’ phase). This cycle is not a one-off process: the authorities go through these phases every six years or if new developments require it. This approach also implies proper monitoring as a basis for decisions about additional steps. Developing and sharing knowledge about climate risks and solutions is also an important component.  

National vital and vulnerable functions 

The vital and vulnerable functions are important for climate-resilient and water-robust planning. Those functions include power supplies (electricity, gas, oil), telecommunications and IT (the public network and emergency communications), waste water, drinking water, health care (hospitals, for example) and pumping stations. The Delta Programme has a particularly strong focus on these functions because flooding or extreme weather can lead to the failure of important systems. Failures cause a lot of damage and major problems in crisis management: digital communications and roads are critical for evacuation, for example. Each vital and vulnerable function requires a tailor-made approach. That process is still proceeding apace. Rijkswaterstaat and ProRail invested a lot of time in the stress tests and risk dialogues. Implementation agendas were drawn up on that basis. Collaboration with the safety regions is important for the work on vital and vulnerable functions. In 2022, the safety regions conducted a supra-regional Flood Impact Analysis to study the impact of climate risks. They mapped out how to limit damage, casualties and disruption. It has emerged that the effects on power supplies are marginal outside areas prone to direct flooding. By 2050, the essential and vulnerable functions must be in a position to cope with floods, problems with excess water, heat, and drought. 

Milestones 2015-2023 

Considerable progress has been made in recent years on the implementation of the Delta Decision for Spatial Adaptation. Milestones include:  

  • There are 45 working regions in the Netherlands that work with a range of parties on spatial adaptation in their own areas. In some cases, the working regions join forces in regional consultation platforms, as in the Southern and Eastern Netherlands.In 2021, the 45 working regions of the Delta Programme for Spatial Adaptation will have completed the risk dialogues and drafted implementation agendas.  
  • Impact projects have been organised with financial support from the Stimulus Scheme to acquire practical knowledge and share good practice. 
  • The Climate Adaptation Stimulus Scheme went into effect on 1 January 2021. In the first two years and in early 2023, almost all the working regions applied for part or all of the subsidy. About € 50 million in government funding is still available for 2023. 
  • A Pluvial and River Flooding Policy Platform was established following the July 2021 floods in Limburg, Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg. The Policy Platform’s first advisory report states, for example, that the underlying principles for stress tests should be standardised. The Association of Netherlands Municipalities and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management have now started work on that process. 
  • In early 2022, a survey was completed of the progress of the work in the regions. This took the form of interviews with area coordinators and leaders of the working regions conducted by DPRA in collaboration with the Climate-Resilient Together Platform. It emerged that the largest challenges in the field of spatial adaptation are related to the capacity needed for the steps to be taken and for the implementation of concrete projects.  
  • The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport worked together on an ‘Action Programme for Climate Adaptation in the Built Environment 2022-2025’. This document describes the actions needed and how the national government intends to work with other government authorities and stakeholders in this respect. The National Yardstick for a green climate-adaptive built environment was developed in part under the auspices of this programme. In addition to the themes from the Delta Programme for Spatial Adaptation, the National Yardstick also focuses on land subsidence and biodiversity. 
  • The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality are working on a national programme to support work on problems with foundations. The national Land Subsidence and Foundations Knowledge Centre is also being established. The knowledge centre is opening up access to knowledge and information, and it is designed for local residents and professionals.  
  • Rijkswaterstaat and ProRail completed their stress tests and risk dialogues in 2021. The results from Rijkswaterstaat have been included in the Rijkswaterstaat Climate Impact Atlas. 
  • The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality are working together to transfer the green-blue networks knowledge base to the public domain. This knowledge base has been widely used for years by municipal employees, institutes of higher education and other organisations involved in spatial adaptation in the Netherlands and internationally.  
  • A joint knowledge day of the Delta Programme for Spatial Adaptation (DPRA) and the Freshwater Delta Programme (DPZW) is organised annually. 

Plans for 2024-2026

Work will continue in the years ahead on the implementation of the Delta Decision for Spatial Adaptation. The approach is described in the Delta Plan for Spatial Adaptation.

The key components include:  

  • Linking the agenda for climate adaptation to other spatial agendas such as the housing agenda, the energy transition, the agricultural transition, land subsidence, biodiversity and the mobility transition.  
  • Support and knowledge sharing through the Climate Adaptation Knowledge Portal and the Climate Impact Atlas.
  • Collaboration from the Delta Programme for Spatial Adaptation (DPRA) with the Freshwater Delta Programme (DPZW) and the Delta Programme for Flood Risk Management (DPWV). 
  • The joint implementation of the National Climate Adaptation Strategy (NAS) and the DRPA. 
  • The implementation of the LIFE-IP Climate Adaptation programme. This Dutch Programme, with co-funding from the European Union (EU), includes measures to speed up the implementation of climate-adaptation measures in the Netherlands. 
  • The Delta Programme for Spatial Adaptation is working on concrete goals to support the dialogue about climate resilience, and to be in a better position to monitor progress on climate adaptation.