Last update: 28 July 2015

Policy and legal framework

The development of adaptation policies follows two parallel interacting tracks: 1) the formulation of a new comprehensiveand intergrated National Adaptation Strategy, 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 joint effort of national government, provinces, municipalities and regional water boards work together with input from social organizations and the business community.

The new National Adaptation Strategy will amend the 2007 National Adaptation Strategy "Make Space for Climate". The formulation of the strategy is guided by an integral climate change policy agenda; ‘the Climate Agenda'. The new National Adaptation Strategy is to be presented in Parliament by 2016 at the latest. It will be based on the most recent insights in climate change, risks and vulnerability. It goes beyond the water related focus of the Delta Programme by comprehensively addressing other 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, like the set-up of a Monitoring and Evaluation framework for climate change adaptation. This system should monitor and evaluate the development of adaptation policy (=process), the implementation (=output) and effectiveness (=outcome). Also the effects of climate change elsewhere, in countries within and outside Europe, and possibly resulting in impacts on Dutch society and economy, will also be covered in underpinning the strategy.

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 Delta Programme is a nationwide programme. The objective is to protect the Netherlands from (coastal and river) flooding, to realize climate resilient urban areas and to ensure adequate supplies of freshwater for generations ahead.

The Dutch Government appointed the Delta Commissioner whosubmits proposals  for the development of the Delta Programme on a yearly basis.  The minister of Infrastructure and the Environment co-ordinates the Delta Programme and bears primary responsibility with regards to reporting in parliament. 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 approach to finding solutions when tackling the issues of safety, water supply and the role that spatial planning can play in resolving those issues.  The integrated approach will lead to five key Delta Decisions. These Delta Decisions will be presented to parliament in September 2014 in a document called the "Delta Programme 2015". This document will also offer a long term perspective for the measures that are prepared to implement the European Framework Directive and Floods Directive and seeks to achieve coherence between them.

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' en ‘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, flood protection standards are being reconsidered in the light of increased population numbers and economic value of assets.

The point of departure for financing the Delta Programme is to be spread across the entire population of the Netherlands and across multiple generations (solidarity). The Delta Fund holds money dedicated by the national government for the implementation of measures and research needs. The fund will be highly significant for credible and timely delta-management in the coming decades. With effect from 2020, the Delta Fund will be fed with a minimum of € 1 billion a year in order to ensure momentum in the implementation of the Delta Programme. The Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment is responsible for the expenditures under this fund.

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 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 ensuring 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 by 2015. Today most provinces have written climate adaptation actionprogrammes. Priorities are mainstreaming climate adaptation into water management, spatial planning, nature policy, agriculture and economic policy.


The Delta Act is formally an amendment of the Water Act



Impact, vulnerability and adaptation information and assessments

2014 KNMI'14 climate scenarios (KNMI Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute)

The KNMI'14 climate scenarios are the most recent KNMI scenarios available for the Netherlands (to be published May 2014). They replace earlier generations scenarios, including the so called ‘KNMI'06' and 'WB21'-scenarios and include the insights of the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC. The KNMI'06 scenarios have so far guided the process of climate proofing the Netherlands, in particular for water management.


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.


2013 Aanpassen met beleid. Bouwstenen voor een integrale visie Klimaatadaptatie (Building blocks for a national adaptation strategy). PBL report

This report assessed the elements that are needed for the forthcoming national Adaptation Strategy; (i) good scenario; (ii) broad but also integrated risk assessment; (iii) good monitoring and evaluation framework; (iv) clear division of responsibilities, both on national and sub-national level and in sectors and society; (iv) note to mainstream adaptation into sectoral policies; (v) good and long-term funding for adaptation; (vi) good and continuous knowledge infrastructure.


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. It concludes that successive governments have taken steps to adapt the Netherlands to climate change. But the policy implemented (including the Delta Programme) concentrates on flood safety and spatial planning. It does not cover all areas that are vulnerable to climate change. These areas include health, energy, transport and recreation. The absence of a comprehensive climate adaptation policy means there is a risk of the country being ill prepared for the consequences of climate change.


2012 The effects of climate change in the Netherlands: 2012 (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency)

An update of the 2005 report of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, in collaboration with various Dutch research institutes, at the request of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. The report addresses 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. It concludes that negative effects are manageable for the Netherlands.


2011 Climate Adaptation in the Dutch Delta. Strategic options for a climate-proof development of the Netherlands (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency)

The report shows that certain structural choices will need to be made. For example to enable a better response from nature to climate change, the spatial coherence between nature areas has to be increased. Future additional costs could substantially be reduced by taking into account today the climate-proofing requirements of tomorrow.


2010 Adaptation strategy for climate-proofing biodiversity

Nature areas in the Netherlands are vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. Under implementation of the current nature policy, sustainable conservation of all plant- and animal species in all areas will not be feasible. Nature policy could be more effective when aimed at increasing nature's adaptive capacity.


2010 Climate Services (KNMI Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute)

The Climate Services has been established at the KNMI to make climate information available for different users. To do so, the services (i) translates science information into information understandable for users; (ii) come up with custom-made, ready to use products, i.e. climate information/data; (iii) give guidance on how to use information, including the limitations and uncertainties around information.


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 coastal defense may no longer be viable in future and the approach needed to be scaled-up.

On September 3rd, 2008 the Delta Commission presented their advice to the Dutch Cabinet. The Delta Commission formulated twelve recommendations for the short and medium term.

The Dutch government responded to the advice of the Delta Commission with the start of the Delta Programme in 2009/2010. With the Delta Programme the Dutch government formulated new priorities in the field of adaptation to climate change.


Strengthing the knowledge base/‘Knowledge for Climate' (KfC)

Knowledge for Climate is a research programme for the development of knowledge and services that makes it possible to climate proof the Netherlands. The research involves many actors in joint exploration of various adaptation options (co-creation). Governmental organisations (central government, provinces, municipalities and water boards) and businesses, actively participate in research programming through the input of additional resources (matching).


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.

Priority sectors and adaptation action

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: (1) energy, (2) infrastructure and transport, (3) ICT, (4) health and (5) nature; (6) Agriculture and fishery. These assessments will be commissioned in preparation of a comprehensive National Adaptation Strategy. Next to the effects of the KNMI scenarios the assessments will consider 'worst-cases'.

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 does 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.

The Delta Programme streamlines adaptation in water management. It distinguishes 9 priority areas, delegated to 9 subprogram's, of which 3 apply to the wholeof the Netherlands and 6 have a specific regional focus:

Nation-wide priorities:

  • Safety
  • Freshwater supply
  • Climate resilient urban development

Regional focus:

  • IJsselmeer (central artificial freshwater lake)
  • Rijnmond-Drechtsteden (large urban area with high asset value and economic activities)
  • Southwest delta (outflow of major European rivers Rhine, Scheldt and Meuse)
  • Rivers (Meuse and Rhine branches in low lying vulnerable areas)
  • Coast (protection of the low lying western parts, partly protected by dunes of natural origin)
  • Wadden (dynamic sedimentation area with important nature function).


Engaging stakeholders: participation & capacity building

Rotterdam Climate Proof

In order to confront the challenge of climate change as an opportunity rather than a threat, the City of Rotterdam has set up the Rotterdam Climate Proof programme. Rotterdam Climate Proof will make Rotterdam climate change resilient by 2025.

A Rotterdam Adaptation Strategy (RAS) is developed. Measures are selected to have multiple benefits and contribute to the social-economic development of the city. Examples are green roofs, so-called ‘water squares' and a new rowing course that enlarge the water storage capacity of the city. Floating architecture is piloted in the old port areas. The Rotterdam approach to adaptation has attracted attention internationally. The European Commission selected Rotterdam as one of the ‘Peer Cities' in the Cities Adapt Programme. Businesses profit from Public-Private Partnerships and international cooperation. The Rotterdam Adaptation Strategy will become one of the pillars of the new National Adaptation Strategy.


Natural Climate Buffers 

Natural Climate Buffers aim to contribute to climate-proofing the Netherlands by capitalising on the adaptive capacity of natural systems. In addition natural climate buffers offer opportunities to combine functions and realise co-benefits for nature and other functions together with, for example, flood safety. In the Netherlands, five nature conservation organisations (Natuurmonumenten, Bird Life International, National Forest Service, ARK Nature and the Wadden Sea Society) are experimenting with combinations of wet and robust nature and different functions (walking, living, water storage, etc.). Case examples have been initiated for different landscape type. For example, in the river landscape channelled streams are restored to their natural meandering pattern, creating 'room for the river' and - in particular in sandy soils - reducing dehydration during heat-waves. Cases include:



Room for the River Programme

In 1993 and 1995 the water levels in the river area were extremely high and the dikes just managed to hold. A quarter of a million people had to be evacuated. Extreme river discharges will occur more frequently in the future and for this reason it was decided to ensure that the rivers could discharge the forecast greater volumes of water without flooding. The Government approved the Room for the River Plan in 2007. 

This Plan has three objectives:

  1. by 2015 the branches of the Rhine will cope with a discharge capacity of 16.000 cubic meters of water per second without flooding;
  2. the measures implemented to increase safety will also improve the overall environmental quality of the river region;
  3. to permanently create the space that the rivers will need in the coming decades to cope with higher discharges due to climate change.


Climate and Agriculture in Northern Netherlands

Agriculture is a major economic factor in the north of the Netherlands. It is, therefore, highly important to assess in time how global climate change may impact agriculture in this part of the country and what measures could be taken. To gain this insight, the project ‘Climate and Agriculture Northern Netherlands' was set up.


Living with water / Watergraafsmeer Amsterdam

Combining population growth and climate adaptation in existing residential areas as a challenge. Through an integral approach it is possible to accelerate, economize and innovate. The main outcome will be a change in attitude and behavior. The WATERgraafsmeer will be the example of a successful transition within an urban area.

Summary table

Item Status Links
National Adaptation Strategy Adopted 2007
Action plans Currently being undertaken
Impacts, vulnerability and adaptation assessments Completed, ongoing in research programmes
Research programs Ongoing
Climate services / Met Office
Web portal
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)
5th National Communication on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Submitted (2009)

Contact details

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

Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency