Spatial Adaptation

Climate change increases the probability of waterlogging, heat, drought, and urban flooding This entails risks to our economy, health, and safety. It is imperative for the Netherlands to adapt to such changes. If we refrain from taking action the damage in our cities may rise to some 70 billion euros in the period up to 2050.  Rural areas may also sustain considerable damage. Here, severe downpours and prolonged precipitation will cause waterlogging, while at other times drought may cause damage. Heat causes expansion-related problems in railways, bridges, and other infrastructure. In addition, heat will affect the health of vulnerable population groups, such as older people and young children.

Climate change calls for a shift in mindset: climate-proof and water-resilient design must become a matter of course in spatial (re)developments.


Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation

The annual Delta Programme encompasses a Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation. This sets out how municipalities, district water boards, provinces, and the national government intend to expedite and intensify the spatial adaptation process. The Delta Plan contains seven ambitions to this end. It indicates the goals pursued by the parties, how they intend to attain these goals, and how they will visualise the results. The Delta Plan comprises an action plan featuring concrete actions and measures. The governments have joined forces in 42 Working Regions.

7 Ambitions for rendering the Netherlands water-resilient and climate-proof

  • Mapping out vulnerabilities

  • Drawing up an implementation agenda

  • Conducting a dialogue on risk and drawing up a strategy

  • Capitalising on linkage opportunities

  • Regulating and embedding

  • Promoting and facilitating

  • Responding to disasters

Delta Programme 2020

Read about the progress made regarding the topic of Spatial Adaptation in Delta Programme 2019.

Climate-proof and water-resilient

The core of the Delta Decision on Spatial Adaptation is to have the Netherlands designed in a climate-proof and water-resilient manner by 2050. The government authorities will ensure that damage ensuing from heat stress, waterlogging, drought, and urban flooding will be kept to a minimum. This aim will be taken into account in the construction of new residential areas and business parks, the renovation of the existing built environment, sewer replacements, road maintenance, et cetera. Climate scenarios will be used to that end.

Stress tests and risk dialogues

Ambition no. 1 of the Delta Plan is “Mapping out vulnerabilities” by means of stress tests. The Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation sets out that by no later than the end of 2019, all the governments in the Netherlands must have satisfied this ambition. The Climate Impact Atlas and the Stress Test Guidelines constitute helpful tools in this respect.

Ambition no. 2 is for all the governments to have conducted risk dialogues by no later than the end of 2020. A considerable number of local governments have already conducted such dialogues, but in many cases, they have not yet covered the entire municipality or the entire territory governed by the district water board or the province. Soil subsidence is adding to the spatial adaptation tasking, which is why – in relevant areas – this issue is also addressed in the stress tests and risk dialogues being conducted by the governments.

Ambition no. 3 is to draw up an implementation agenda by no later than 2020. Many Working Regions have embarked on this ambition; several governments have already attained this goal.

In order to give impetus to spatial adaptation efforts, it is important to share the available knowledge, tools, and experience on as wide a scale as possible, in order to obviate the need for every individual party to re-invent the wheel. That is why, in 2018, the Climate-proof Together Platform was set up. The platform liaises between supply and demand in various regions, sectors, and existing networks. The knowledge portal, featuring information and tools, also contributes to the exchange of knowledge.

In 2019, two new tools were developed, available free of charge: the Climate Damage Assessor and the Climate-proof City Toolbox.

Climate Impact Atlas

The knowledge portal also features the Climate Impact Atlas , enabling the quick visualisation of various climate effects (waterlogging, heat, drought, and urban flooding) in a particular area. Furthermore, effects can be combined with information on, e.g., vulnerable groups, swimming water, and depths. The Climate Impact Atlas constitutes a sound basis for a stress test.

Vital and vulnerable functions

The central government ensures that national vital and vulnerable functions will be more resistant to flooding by no later than 2050. Vital and vulnerable functions are, for example, the energy supply (electricity, gas, oil), telecom and IT facilities (public network and emergency communication), the wastewater chain, the supply of drinking water, healthcare (such as hospitals), pumping stations and sluices, road transport, chemical companies, and laboratories that work with pathogens.

The Delta Programme focuses special attention on these functions, as flooding may cause the failure of essential facilities and the release of harmful substances. In addition to the risk of casualties, flooding could also entail major economic loss, if areas were temporarily unfit for habitation or if key companies were inoperative for a prolonged period of time.

The national strategy regarding vital and vulnerable functions was expanded in 2019. Coordination within – and between – Ministries and sectors has been improved, whilst the vulnerability of vital and vulnerable functions is now also being reviewed at the local and regional levels.

The provinces of Gelderland and Limburg have conducted two pilots. The Ministries, sectors, regional and local governments involved have explored area-specific ways to improve the water resilience of vital and vulnerable functions. The studies tied in with the Flood Risks Impact Analyses conducted by the Security Regions, and the climate stress tests and risk dialogues conducted by regional and local governments.

These pilots have shown that it is important for the governments – preferably at the provincial spatial scale level – to collectively approach the grid managers and authorities in charge of vital and vulnerable functions in the region. In view of the national significance of such vital and vulnerable functions, the central government obviously remains an important discussion partner. Another finding involved the utilities (power, gas, telecom): the authorities in charge of each function should preferably be contacted separately, in order to uphold the confidentiality of geo data. Providing utility companies with detailed (flood) information in individual, tailored sessions will enable the managers to indicate which areas are prone to failure, without having to share geo information on objects.

The results of the pilots will be collated in the second half of 2019, along with the experience gained by other provinces. They will be supplemented with recommendations regarding the review of the Delta Decision on Spatial Adaptation and submitted to the Spatial Adaptation Steering Group..

The fifth progress report regarding the approach to national vital and vulnerable functions [Rd3]  contains a detailed explanation of the progress made with respect to the agreements on vital and vulnerable functions.

Promotion and facilitation

The Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management has allocated additional funds to the promotion and facilitation of climate adaptation: a total of 20 million euros for 2019 and 2020. This sum is supplementary to the ongoing incentive programme with a budget of 6.7 million euros. This means that in the years ahead, 26.7 million euros will be available for process support, pilot studies, knowledge development, and knowledge sharing. The knowledge acquired will be made available through the Knowledge Portal and the Climate-proof Together Platform.

Under the Administrative Agreement on Climate Adaptation, the Association of Netherlands Municipalities, the Association of Dutch Regional Water Authorities, the Association of Provincial Authorities, and the central government are giving impetus to climate adaptation efforts and the implementation of measures as set down in the Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation. The central government intends to earmark 150 to 250 million euros for a temporary incentive scheme, with effect from 2021, on the condition that the taskings have been mapped out nationwide. The regional and local governments will jointly contribute an equal sum.

For this reason, the central government is working on an amendment to the Water Act. This amendment will enable the allocation of Delta Fund grants to regional and local governments, earmarked for the implementation of measures to combat waterlogging. In the period ahead, the authorities will elaborate the measures and provisions for which grants may be awarded, and specify the conditions to be satisfied by regional and local governments in order to qualify for such grants. The amendment and the temporary incentive scheme are expected to come into force on 1 January 2021.

Capitalising on linkage opportunities

Increasingly more authorities are considering smart linkage of climate adaptation measures to other taskings in the physical environment. Especially in urban areas, such linkage opens up a host of opportunities: it may expedite the implementation of measures, reduce nuisance for residents and businesses, and yield financial benefits.

The “linkage” ambition is a logical element in the other ambitions set out in the Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation. Linkage is one of the topics addressed during risk dialogues, which in addition to spatial adaptation also deal with the interconnectivity with other societal taskings at the street, neighbourhood, and regional levels. Several fine examples are underway, such as the Nieuwdorp Climate Street Impact Project in the municipality of Borsele in the province of Zeeland. The Prinses Margrietstraat and the Hertenweg in Nieuwdorp (municipality of Borsele) are to become the first climate streets in the province of Zeeland featuring only energy-neutral homes and a design capable of coping with both torrential rain and extreme drought. Residents, municipal authorities, and other parties involved are exploring options in concert.

The city of Wolvega in the province of Friesland has created a new water storage facility, with room for nature and leisure activities. The project involved collaboration between the province of Fryslân, the Wetterskip Fryslân district water board, the municipality of Weststellingwerf, and It Fryske Gea. The process spanned a period of twelve years; the water storage facility was put into service in 2017. Since then, water drainage in Wolvega has significantly improved. The construction of the water storage facility cost less than the construction of a larger sewer pipe. Furthermore, the storage pond purifies rainwater and generates a beautiful nature reserve, offering a lot of room for leisure activities. In consultation with the residents of an assisted living complex, a wide path was created for wheelchair users.

Potential amendments to the Delta Decision

In 2017, the Delta Decision on Spatial Adaptation was evaluated, which led to the conclusion that acceleration and intensification of spatial adaptation efforts is imperative. This has constituted reason to draw up the Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation, featuring the seven ambitions that are currently being realised.

In the wake of the ongoing review of the Delta Decision, potential interim goals for the period 2020-2050 are being explored, as is a more specific substantiation of the terms “climate-proof” and “water-resilient”, in order to be able to assess whether the 2050 target regarding climate-proof and water-resilient spatial planning will be attained. Climate Adaptation is to become the “new standard” with respect to developments in the spatial domain, in order to ensure that the Netherlands will be as climate-proof and water-resilient as possible by 2050, whilst (re)developments will not entail any additional risk of damage or casualties, insofar as such is reasonably feasible. The review will also examine the relationship between climate adaptation and other taskings, such as the energy transition, the transition towards cyclic farming, the restoration of biodiversity, cultural heritage, and the housing tasking. Furthermore, the review will consider an expansion of the national strategy regarding vital and vulnerable functions: to cover not only urban flooding, but all climate threats, viz. also waterlogging, heat, and drought. After all, such extreme weather conditions may cause vital and vulnerable functions to fail and sustain major damage.