During our walk on Treshilling, I tell my kids about the interaction of water, sand and nature. I am proud to explain what we did in the Netherlands to be able to live in the delta. Sometimes we fight the water with dams and barriers, but also cooperate with the water by inviting it and giving it space.
In the past, swampy lands were inundated as a military defense strategy or to add nutrients to farmland. More recently, more space has been set aside for the river to prevent flooding of homes elsewhere. We are increasingly realizing that the natural system must form the basis of our water management strategy and that we must add our engineering knowledge to it.
However, with some concern, I also talk about what awaits us in the Netherlands and in other coastal regions. The consequences of climate change are already noticeable: dry summers, wildfires, and temperature records. Stabilizing climate change is important to reduce impacts. However, even if we can achieve the Paris Agreement and if climate change is limited to 1.5 or 2°C, adaptation to climate change is essential. So adaptation to the climate is inevitable.
Climate adaptation can be done by resisting, moving or withdrawing. This sounds simple, but is actually more complicated. What is good for one may be unfavorable for another. But also: A measure that limits short-term effects may be undesirable in the long-term. For example, if after the installation of dams it is no longer possible to maintain and raise the dams due to lack of financial resources or space, or if the risks from potential failure become too great.
There are four strategies for coping with sea level rise. First, to protect by holding back the water. This can be done by strengthening the existing coast and making it higher. Although that won’t stop the salt leakage completely. Sometimes there is no place for that.
Build a new coast
Another protection strategy is the construction of a new coastline in the sea. Also towards the sea mentioned. Protection can be done through hard infrastructure such as a dam or embankment, but it can also be done through soft measures such as sand dunes or salt marshes. The latter are also referred to as “natural” (nature-based) measures. It is on the rise worldwide, although it is not yet clear whether this will always and everywhere be sufficient, especially for densely populated areas. Then a combination of solid infrastructure is needed.
Give space for water
The third strategy is to give more space to and moving forward With the use of water and land. For example, by growing crops that can better tolerate wet or salty conditions. Or by erecting buildings on stilts or floating stilts, or by building them in such a way that if water gets in, the consequences are limited. These measures are often insufficient in the case of sea level rise.
The fourth strategy is to move houses and buildings, also called To pull mentioned. This is inevitable worldwide in low-lying coastal areas. This strategy is often seen as a last resort and is applied when the damage has already been done. Not surprisingly, it was then seen as a “capitulation”. However, viewing withdrawal as a serious option and considering it in conjunction with other social goals and developments can produce positive results in the long run.
The following also applies to adaptation: appearance Better than treatment. Complementary to other strategies, this strategy aims to avoid developments in high-risk areas and/or allow them to occur only if they are temporary or resilient to climate change.
Adaptation does not stand alone. In the meantime, we are dealing with social developments that increase the need for adaptation and sometimes stand in the way of adaptation. Since many of these developments will remain noticeable long into the future, it is important to look at this in an integrated manner. Take, for example, the construction of new homes in low-lying coastal areas. This calls for more protection. Or build wind turbines and solar panels, which can hinder sand extraction, strengthen dams or store water for climate adaptation.
A lot is already possible. However, innovation is essential to the task we face around the world. Perhaps the best action for adaptation is mitigation: reducing climate change. Every bit of the additional warming counts and could mean a sea level rise of meters in the long run. This is a story I like to tell my children when I enjoy the beautiful Dutch coast with them.
Dr. Marjoline Hasnott Climate and Water Adaptation Scientist at the Deltares Institute of Knowledge and the University of Utrecht. It has developed an adaptive approach to prepare for uncertain climate change. Marjolin is the lead author of the Sixth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and has previously written about the consequences of sea level rise on adaptation in the Netherlands.
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