Although climate change is expected to continue, its negative impacts for the Netherlands appear manageable. Here, most climatic changes will take place more gradual than in many other regions, thus enabling citizens, companies and authorities to adapt. Furthermore, current policies focus attention on important aspects of climate change, such as the risk of flooding, drought and precipitation extremes.
Negative impacts of continuing climate change appear manageable for the Netherlands
PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency has updated its 2005 report, Climate change in the Netherlands, in collaboration with various Dutch research institutes, at the request of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. The main issues addressed in this update relate to the most recent information on climate change itself and its impacts on flood safety, freshwater availability and quality, nature, agriculture, human health and tourism in the Netherlands.
Climate change in the Netherlands
Climate in the Netherlands is changing. The average temperature, for example, has increased by 1.7 °C during the last century, and the annual number of summery days increased by nearly 20. Annual precipitation also has increased by about 20% and periods of heavy rainfall have become much more frequent.
The observed temperature rise in the Netherlands is about twice as high as the global average, and over the past 20 years there has been no visible decline in this upward trend. According to current knowledge, climate change is expected to continue in the coming centuries, although the extent and rate of change remain uncertain. Annual precipitation up to the end of this century, for example, may either increase by 5% or decrease by 6% – depending on the scenario. These uncertainties complicate adaptation to possible future climate change.
Multiple effects of climate change can be observed
Various effects of climate change can already be observed in the Netherlands. Some of these effects are positive, such as increases in agricultural productivity and the number of fine days for recreation. Others are negative, such as higher risk of river and water drainage flooding (as a result of intense precipitation) and declining surface water quality (water temperature, algal growth) and biodiversity. A more rapid rise in sea level and an increase in peak river discharges, as a consequence of climate change, have not yet been observed in the Netherlands.
Climate change and its subsequent impacts are expected to continue in the future. Because of its geographical location, these changes may present opportunities for the Netherlands, particularly in the areas of agriculture and tourism. Negative impacts are strongly related to changes in the occurrence of extreme weather events (e.g. droughts, storms).
Negative effects manageable for the Netherlands
At the current rate, climate change impact appear manageable for the Netherlands, because most of the effects are expected to be limited, compared to many other regions – both within and outside Europe – thus allowing time to adapt.
Furthermore, there are a number of physical factors that have a mitigating influence on future effects of climate change in the Netherlands. For example, should climate change lead to higher peak discharges in the upper reaches of the Rhine the maximum discharge entering the Netherlands could be buffered substantially in Germany. This, due to high buffering capacity upstream and water management policies in Germany. Finally, the ability of the Netherlands to cope with the effects of climate change is also a consequence of the current policy interest in climate change, although this does differ between policy areas. The Delta Programme, for example, addresses the climate risks and uncertainties associated with flood safety, freshwater availability and urban development. Furthermore, an infrastructure of global, European and regional monitoring networks and action plans have been established for early detection of new or returning human and agricultural pests and diseases. This infrastructure has become increasingly necessary in view of the rapidly growing volumes of worldwide freight and passenger transport.
In recent years, there has been little policy interest in the effects of climate change on ecosystems and biodiversity in the Netherlands. The Dutch National Ecological Network (EHS) and the European Natura 2000 network provide a solid basis for making Dutch ecosystems and biodiversity more climate-resilient. This, however, requires a change in government thinking on the EHS, with a shift in emphasis towards expanding, connecting and enhancing valuable conservation areas. These areas, such as large existing wetlands, form the ecological strongholds of biodiversity which are also connected to similar areas elsewhere (via ‘climate adaptation zones' for wetlands, and dunes and coastal ecosystems), as well as to clusters of such nature areas (heathland, forests). In addition, a climate-proof nature conservation policy would also require revised conservation objectives.