Building Sand Dunes and Strategic Policy Solutions

As the impacts of climate change become manifest, governments around the world are beginning to plan for changes in order to ensure they will be able to meet their respective population’s growing demand for energy, food and water and also prepare communities for climate change through adaptation measures.

The Netherlands has been a leader in climate adaptation efforts for decades. In January 2012, the government passed the Delta Act, which will ensure the nation that all levels of government will collaborate with public organizations and the private sector to protect communities from flooding and provide a secure freshwater supply. Furthermore, the national adaptation strategy will enable all levels of government to participate in the integrated planning approach, bolstering resiliency. The Netherlands is now committing nearly EUR 1 billion to climate adaptation annually.

Dutch coast: dykes, canals, dams, bridges, and locks hold back the North Sea / © USGS EROS Data Center

Global user networks contribute to flood forecasts in the Netherlands

The government, businesses and local groups have been working to enhance natural climate buffers by increasing sediment and peat formation, heightening dikes and mounds, and investing in natural resilience. Through the implementation of such natural buffers, communities can grow in concert with their environment, as it adapts to the changing climate.

The Dutch research institute Deltares, for examples, is achieving increased community resilience through improved data collection and management, enabling a global network of users to contribute to a system that ensembles flood forecasts. This active user network emboldens flood forecasting, thereby protecting communities along river basins. In coastal regions, Deltares is using sand dunes to purify water, and in doing so, protecting groundwater supplies from salt-water intrusion.

These natural defenses also plan for the needs of future generations which prioritizes inter-generational equity. Such inclusivity and an integrated planning approach reflect the success of the Dutch government’s management performance (one of the reasons The Netherlands ranks 11th place among 31 OECD countries with regards to the governments’ ability to develop strategic policy solutions, according to The Bertelsmann Foundation’s Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI). In particular, the Netherlands’ strong history of self-reflection and monitoring capacity is likely to assist in its efforts to account for climate change’s impacts and defend its coasts, low lying areas, and vulnerable populations.

Land and water management will need to be addressed in an integrated manner, especially when considering populations living in coastal areas and river basins. As the Netherlands climate adaptation strategy documents, using nature to mitigate risks due to climate change, is an effective and important approach for governments to consider.

Other soft strategies include raising awareness, promoting conservation and efficient spatial planning. These soft strategies and natural buffers allow for nature to be spatially integrated with human intervention or hard infrastructure, decreasing overall costs of intervention.

The first step towards sound climate adaptation and national resiliency requires governments to elevate climate change policy in their nation’s priorities. Once adaptation and integrated land and water management are recognized as exigent needs for sustainable prosperity and inter-generational equity, well-conceived incentive policies and market mechanisms can change how land and water is managed. This can ensure that all stakeholders contribute to sustainable management of the precious land and water resources, and help insulate populations from any surprises climate change brings in its wake.

Antonia Sohns is a Water and Energy Analyst at the World Bank and co-author of “Sustainable Fisheries and Seas: Preventing Ecological Collapse,” in State of the World 2013. She writes this article in her personal capacity. This is an excerpted version of her article first published on SGI News.

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