Last update: 24 September 2015

Policy and legal framework

The development of adaptation policies follows two parallel interacting tracks: 1) the formulation of a new comprehensive and integrated National Adaptation Strategy (NAS), and 2) the implementation of the Delta Programme, which re-evaluates water management in the light of long-term sustainable development and climate change. Both the development of the NAS and the Delta Programme are nationwide programmes. This implies a leading role of the national government, involving provinces, municipalities and regional water boards and seeking input from social organizations and the business community.

The new National Adaptation Strategy 2016 (NAS) will update the 2007 National Adaptation Strategy "Make Space for Climate". The formulation of the NAS is guided by the integral (mitigation and adaptation) climate policy agenda:  ‘the Climate Agenda' (2013). The NAS is to be presented to Parliament by 2016. It will be based on recent insights in climate risks and vulnerabilities and socio-economic developments. It goes beyond the water related focus of the Delta Programme by comprehensively addressing sectors, in particular health, energy and ICT, infrastructure, transport, nature, agriculture and fisheries. Cross-sectoral cascading effects will also be taken into account. Various projects have been initiated to support the development of the strategy. Also the effects of climate change elsewhere, in countries within and outside Europe,  which might result in impacts on Dutch society and economy, will be covered in the strategy. The NAS will also contain a Monitoring and Evaluation framework for climate change adaptation. This system will primarily look into progress with the adaptation policies (=process), but also seeks transparency with regards to implementation (=output) and effectiveness (=outcome) of actions.

The Delta Programme is a nationwide programme. The objective is to protect the Netherlands from (coastal and river) flooding, to work towards climate resilient urban areas and to ensure adequate supplies of freshwater for generations ahead. The legal framework for the implementation of the Delta Programme in the Netherlands is ‘the Delta Act on flood safety and freshwater supply' (hereafter: the Delta Act). The Delta Act anchors the Delta Programme, the Delta Fund and the role of the Delta Commissioner. The Delta Act entered into force on 1 January 2012[1]

The Dutch Government appointed the Delta Commissioner to direct the development and implementation of the Delta Programme. Every year the Delta Commissioner reports to the Cabinet about progress and advises on necessary steps. On behalf of the Cabinet the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment presents the Delta Commissioner's annual report to the Parliament supplemented with an appropriate policy response. The provinces, municipalities and especially the regional water boards are closely involved in developing this annual report.

The Delta Programme comprises plans and provisions to guarantee flood safety and a sufficient supply of freshwater as well as climate resilient urban areas, including the relevant planning and a cost estimate. The Delta Programme uses an integrated and adaptive approach in finding solutions when tackling the issues of safety, water supply and the role that spatial planning can play in resolving those issues. In September 2014 key decisions on policy frameworks and regional strategies were presented to the Parliament in the "Delta Programme 2015". These so-called "Delta Decisions" have wide support:


In addition, three key decisions are made regarding two complicated geographical areas, where coastal and riverine water systems interact, and the sandy coast, and where measures regarding flood risk, fresh water supply and spatial adaptation are urgent and may interfere with each other:

The Delta Programme 2015 also offers a long term perspective supporting the implementation of the European Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive in a coherent way.

The cabinet has accepted the proposed Delta Decisions as government policy, to be elaborated in national legislation and administrative agreements, starting in 2015. The Delta Decisions are being translated into concrete measures for different parts of the Netherlands.

Solidarity between regions and between generations is a key principle for financing the Delta Programme. The Delta Fund holds money dedicated by the national government for the implementation of measures and research needs. The water boards co-fund the primary flood defence system. The fund will be highly significant for credible and timely delta-management in the coming decades. As from 2020, the Delta Fund will be fed with a minimum of  €1 billion a year in order to ensure the implementation of the Delta Programme. Every year the Delta Commissioner will present advice on how to target the budget on necessary measures and supporting research in the annual Delta Programme. The Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment decides and is politically responsible. Interim decisions will take account of uncertainties around the future impact of climate change as well as spatial and socio-economic developments. The approach here is the so called ‘adaptive delta management', choosing the kind of necessary measures that keep options open for later adjustment. In the process all relevant material, results of research and knowledge programmes (‘Knowledge for Climate'), experience from international cooperation (e. g. ‘Netherlands Water Partnership', ‘Partners for Water', ‘Delta Alliance' and  Connecting Delta Cities), and assessments by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (such as the study ‘Climate Adaptation in the Dutch Delta - Strategic options for a climate-proof development of the Netherlands') are taken into account. Adaptive delta management based on sound knowledge used in a future oriented Delta Programme is essential for cost-effective investments.

Up to 2015, the execution of investments in existing programmes (such as ‘Room for the River', ‘Border Meuse Programme' and ‘Flood Protection Programme') and projects (such as Climate buffers) continue. The recently published ‘Third Safety Assessment' which looked into the existing primary flood defence systems, acknowledged the importance of the considerable effort devoted to compliance with current, statutory flood protection standards. Reinforcing weak segments of the coastal defence is also work in progress. Meanwhile, new flood protection standards have been proposed in the light of increased population numbers and economic value of assets that will be turned into the legal norms after 2017.

Regional Water Boards make a structural contribution to financing the current Flood Protection Programme. As part of an Administrative Agreement on Water (concluded on 23 May 2011) regional Water Boards became co-financiers for the construction and improvement of primary flood defence systems, as managed by these boards. The co-financing is equally distributed, the water boards are responsible for funding half of the construction and improvement costs, the other half is funded by the Delta Fund. The agreement also focuses on cooperation in the Delta Programme. 

The Administrative Agreement on Water and the recently published policy note on Infrastructure and Spatial Planning designates the responsibilities of parties. The national government is responsible for national interests including flood risk management and the main water system. The provinces act as area-director, organize spatial planning and set out frameworks for the regional water system. The regional Water Boards supervise and manage the regional and the majority of primary defence systems as well as ensure the availability of water as a resource of adequate quality in the regional water systems. The municipalities supervise the public areas within their duty of care under the Water Act and are the initial point of contact in the event of flooding. Working with the various partners and their responsibilities is an important part of the process in the Delta Programme under the direction of the Delta Commissioner.

In 2009 the Dutch provinces signed an agreement with the national government to mainstream climate adaptation into spatial planning. Today most provinces have written climate adaptation action programmes. Priorities are ‘no regret' options and mainstreaming climate adaptation into water management, spatial planning, nature policy, agriculture and economic policy. For spatial planning a specific engagement programme has been set up to stimulate regional and local policy makers, institutes and businesses to create climate proof and water resilient cities from the year 2020. Applicants can receive funds to implement this ambition by joining the programme and they can sign a letter of intent to indicate they are willing to adapt to climate change. The engagement programme focusses on capacity building and mainstreaming spatial adaptation.

Next to these programmes, sector (infrastructure, nature, health etc.) specific adaptation measures are in the process of being created or are already being implemented (see section 3).


[1] The Delta Act is formally an amendment of the Water Act

Impact, vulnerability and adaptation information and assessments

  1. Observations and projections

The main source of climate information comes from the Dutch meteorological office, the KNMI Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. The institute is legally obliged to provide observations on atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial indicators and is funded by the Dutch government. The KNMI also provides information and data on extreme weather events. Next to collecting observations, the KNMI transforms the data into understandable data for the public and runs climate models to provide scientifically sound climate data input for other applications and to be used by other research institutes and universities. One example is the Delta scenarios, in which the climate information is combined with socio-economic developments on land use, water and space, derived from the Welfare, Prosperity and Quality of the Living Environment (in Dutch: Welvaart en leefomgeving (WLO)) study from 2006, that were used in the Delta Programme. The observations gathered by the KNMI are publically available and date back to the beginning of the 20th century when measurements started. The 2014 KNMI 14' climate scenarios provide the national basis for the national adaptation policymaking (see Research).

  1. Impacts & vulnerability assessments

Vulnerability assessments are generally realised through European research projects and national studies. The most important and recent national efforts include the Delta Programme 2014, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) advices and the Knowledge for Climate programme. The PBL, a government funded organisation, reports 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. The Knowledge for Climate programme made an assessment in 2014 of the risks and opportunities that arise from climate change for the individual themes of the NAS:

  • Transport and Infrastructure[1]: The highest risks of climate change lie in limited availability of infrastructure (roads, railways, waterways, airport) or material damage (pipes). The risks will likely increase in the future due to socio-economic developments.
  • Energy systems[2]: The disruption of energy supply directly affects all critical infrastructures. The risk of cascading effects to other sectors initiated by a failure of the energy sector is high. The risks also increases due to socio-economic developments and new technologies.
  • ICT[3]: The ICT sector is vulnerable to climate change in a similar way as transport and infrastructure. The sector does not directly suffer from the effects of climate change.
  • Health[4]: Heatwaves may become more frequent resulting in a higher incidence of disease and increased mortality. Climate change may also increase exposure to airborne allergens such as pollen and dust mites and lengthen/worsen the hay fever season through establishment of new species.
  • Nature[5]: The nature sector is very vulnerable for climate change, both the abiotic part (higher temperatures, wetter/drier) and the biotic part (range shifts, phenological shifts). The effects translate to a broad range of impacts on society.
  • Agri- and horticulture[6]: Climate change in the Netherlands allows for an increase in the potential production of most crops in 2050, because the temperature and CO2 concentration rises. Potatoes and onions are particularly vulnerable for the occurrence of climate extremes,  pests and diseases. In horticulture climate risk are relatively small.
  • Fisheries[7]: A small increase in production is expected to occur due to climate change in the North Sea, This is however, highly uncertain. In freshwater systems, the risk of summer mortality increases.

An overall assessment of the risks and opportunities arising from climate change was made in 2015 by PBL[8].


  1. Research

The most important research contributions to the National Adaptation Strategy have been done by Knowledge for Climate, PBL and KNMI. This research has been complemented by several knowledge institutes, universities, NGO's etc. The basis of the NAS lies in the data on climate change from the KNMI, the impacts and vulnerabilities have been further assessed by Knowledge for Climate and the PBL.

Previous assessments largely focussed on water, agriculture and - to a lesser extent - city planning and nature conservation. Recent studies called for a more comprehensive vulnerability assessment of: energy; infrastructure and transport; ICT; health; nature; agriculture and fishery. These assessments are commissioned in preparation of the NAS. Next to the effects of the KNMI climate scenarios, the assessments will consider 'worst-cases'.

The following products are in support of the national adaptation to climate change process.

The KNMI Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute

The KNMI'14 climate scenarios are the most recent KNMI scenarios available for the Netherlands (published September 2014). The NAS will be based on the findings of the KNMI '14 scenarios. In 2010 the KNMI established the Climate Services to make climate information available for different users.


Knowledge for Climate

From 2007 to 2014 Knowledge for Climate has been the major research programme for the development of knowledge and services that makes it possible to climate proof the Netherlands. This has been done on several themes and hotspots. Together with several knowledge partners, they have done research on the opportunities and risks of climate change for adaptation policy. They have done this for the themes the NAS will take into account. The information can be found in the Building blocks for the National Adaptation Strategy (2014).


The most important contributions of the PBL to the NAS can be found in the following reports: Aanpassen aan klimaatverandering - Kwetsbaarheden zien, kansen grijpen  (2015), Building blocks for a national adaptation strategy (2013), The effects of climate change in the Netherlands (2012), Climate Adaptation in the Dutch Delta. Strategic options for a climate-proof development of the Netherlands  (2011) and  Adaptation strategy for climate-proofing biodiversity (2010).

The following reports and websites have further contributed to the development of the NAS.

2014 OECD Water Governance in the Netherlands. Fit for the Future?

This OECD report assesses the extent to which Dutch water governance is fit for future challenges and sketches an agenda for the reform of water policies in the Netherlands. It builds on a one-year policy dialogue with over 100 Dutch stakeholders, supported by robust analytical work and drawing on international best practice.

2014 Spatial Adaptation Knowledge Portal 

The spatial adaptation knowledge portal helps to plan in urban areas in a climate proof and water resilient way.  The portal supports cooperation between various stakeholders to exploit opportunities that climate change brings and build urban areas that are attractive and at the same time resilient to extreme precipitation, periods of drought and heat and the consequences of possible flooding. 

2014 Delta portal

The Delta Portal is a web-based geographical presentation tool that supplies information about the Delta Model and Delta Instruments in an appealing and accessible way for the purposes of the Delta Programme. It provides information about the challenges facing water safety and freshwater that need to be addressed to keep the Netherlands safe and inhabitable.

2012 Adaptation to climate change: strategy and policy: This report audits the Netherlands' climate adaptation policy, i.e. the measures being taken to make the country less vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.

2008 Working together with water. A living land builds for its future. Findings of the Delta Commission: A Delta Commission had been formed in 2008, as the current approach taken to flood risk management and fresh water supply in the Dutch delta needed to be revised.

The Water Test/helpdesk Water

The helpdesk water created by the Dutch government, provinces, municipalities and the union of local water boards. It was primarily designed to answer questions from people who are (professionally) involved in water policy, water management and water safety-issues in the Netherlands.  

The National Page Public Health

This is the website with independent and science-based information on the current and possible future state of public health in the Netherlands. It includes a section on climate change, assessing causes of climate change, its impacts on public health and possible (policy) responses to mitigate and adapt.

Climate Adaptation Services/Climate Atlas

The Climate Adaptation Atlas consists of geospatial maps visualizing the possible impacts of climate change, and its consequences on a regional scale. The atlas contains maps of precipitation, temperature, flood safety, water nuisance, drought, urban heat island effect, and impacts on agriculture and nature. The maps are disclosed via an open access web portal. The objective of a Climate Atlas is to make the effects of climate change tangible on a local level and allow local governments and other actors to work towards adaptation strategies and a climate-proof future. The atlas is fully incorporated in the knowledge platform spatial adaptation.

  1. Monitoring Progress. Effectiveness/efficiency

Following the NAS that will be completed in 2016, work has already started on a monitoring and evaluation system to implement after the NAS is ready. The M&E system is developed by the PBL [9]. The focus will be on the implementation of the NAS in terms of process and results to be able to answer the question: ‘are we still doing the right things?'. To this end, six strategic signposts are defined to track inputs, outputs and outcomes: i) the expected changes in the climate and the knowledge on possible effects; ii) the financial framework; iii) te political/administrative setting; iv) the societal setting; v) new knowledge and technologies; and vi) unforeseen circumstances/interventions. The signposts have different indicators for each policy theme in the NAS. The implementation of the M&E system will be based on cooperation with the different administrative levels and a wide range of societal stakeholders.


[1] Maas, N, and Vogel, R. (2014). Klimaatverandering en transport en infrastructuur. Actualisatie van de risico's en kansen voor klimaatadaptatiebeleid. TNO-rapport.

[2] Vogel, R. et al. (2014). Klimaatverandering en energie-infrastructuur. Actualisatie van de risico's en kansen door klimaatverandering op de Nederlandse energie-infrastructuur. TNO-rapport.

[3] Luiijf, H.A.M., and S.H. van Oort (2014). Klimaatadaptatie en de sector Informatie- en Communicatie Technologie (ICT). TNO-rapport.

[4] Wuijts, S. et al.,(2014) Effecten klimaat of gezondheid. Actualisatie voor de NAS (2016). RIVM rapport 2014-0044.

[5] Braakhekke, W.G., et al. (2014) Klimaatverandering en natuur. Een verkenning van risico's, kansen en aangrijpingspunten voor klimaatadaptatiebeleid.

[6] Schaap, B.F. et al (2014). Klimaatrisico's en –kansen voor de landbouw. Plant Research International – Wageningen UR.

[7] Rijnsdorp et al. (2014) Klimaatverandering: risico's en kansen voor de Nederlandse Visserij- en Aquacultuursector. IMARES – Wageningen UR.

[8] van Oostenbrugge, R., Knoop, J., Muilwijk, H., Vonk, M., and Ligtvoet, W. (2015) Aanpassen aan klimaatverandering - Kwetsbaarheden zien, kansen grijpen. PBL rapport nr. 1454.

[9] van Minnen, J., Kunseler, E., Harley, M., Klostermann, J. and Ligtvoet, W. (2015) Ontwerp voor een Nationale Adaptatiemonitor. PBL rapport nr 1640.

Priority sectors and adaptation action

Over the last years priority was given to adaptation in the water sector. The national monitoring programme of the dikes showed that a number of dikes do not meet the standards. In addition, at the end of 2011, the updated analyses of social costs and benefits of flood defences and the risk in terms of victims due to flooding, became available. The studies indicate that for most parts of the Netherlands safety standards result in acceptable risks; however, a number of areas could benefit from a higher safety standard. Furthermore, the regional vulnerability of fresh water supply in 2050 was assessed. The implementation of the Delta Programme is already taking place in ongoing programmes for strengthening dikes and the coast, and widening rivers. In the years ahead, the emphasis will shift more towards implementation.


Engaging stakeholders: participation & capacity building

  1. Governance

Following the priority sectors in the NAS, stakeholders from these sectors will be involved in elaborating response and implementing actions. Municipalities, Water Boards and regional bodies follow regulations to take adaptation into account. Dutch science institutions/universities do the research. Over 100 institutions including the private sector have signed a letter of intent for spatial adaptation, showing their interest and commitment to spatially adapt to climate change. The engagement program of spatial adaptation tries to stimulate more institutions to join the spatial adaptation movement. As an example, for the  nature sector, already seven institutes (including NGO's) are involved in the adaptation program ‘natural climate buffers', that aims to contribute to climate-proofing the Netherlands by capitalising on the adaptive capacity of natural systems and that looks for opportunities to combine functions and realise co-benefits for nature and other functions together with, for example, flood safety. Case examples have been initiated for different landscape types.  


Several sectors and regions have started their own adaptation programmes. The City of Rotterdam, for instance, has set up the Rotterdam Climate Proof programme to make Rotterdam climate change resilient by 2025 through, e.g., green roofs, so-called ‘water squares', a new rowing course to enlarge the water storage capacity of the city, and floating architecture in the old port areas. More examples can be found via the following links: Room for the River Plan, Climate and Agriculture Northern Netherlands and WATERgraafsmeer.



  1. Adaptation capacity, dissemination, education, training

On the spatial adaptation website people are asked to share projects that can work as showcases for spatial adaptation to climate change. Over 80 showcases throughout the Netherlands are currently displayed on the website that inspire others and transfers knowledge. Next to showcases, a guideline to spatial adaptation is provided. The engagement program aims at making institutes and municipalities aware of the impacts and adaptation to climate change. Via this route  public awareness is also raised. The KNMI informs governmental organisations, institutes and the general public on climate change through their knowledge centre website (in Dutch). NGO's such as the World Wildlife Fund inform the general public on the impact of climate change and the need for action. Several governmental institutes made the website "will I flood?" trying to make citizens aware of the need to prepare themselves against flooding.   

Summary table

Item Status Links
National Adaptation Strategy New version to be released in 2016
Delta Programme 2015 Adopted 2014
Impacts, vulnerability and adaptation assessments Completed, ongoing in research programmes
Research programs Completed 2014
Climate services / Met Office Established
Web portal Online
Monitoring, Indicators, Methodologies Ongoing as part of research programmmes
Training and education resources
6th National Communication on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Submitted (2014)

Contact details

Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment,
Directorate for Spatial Development and Water Affairs, Climate Adaptation International

Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency