Increasing the benefits of climate adaptation

Posted on March 23, 2015

In the last few years, a number of countries have instigated projects to climate-proof their water management activities. For example, the former Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment developed a national climate adaptation strategy to assist local communities. To identify the characteristics of successful climate adaptation programmes, Dutch researchers used a semi-structured questionnaire to interview the managers of 100 spatial planning and water management projects. Eight key recommendations emerged from the analysis. First, climate adaptation projects should have a long time-frame since it’s important, for example, to allow for long-term changes in the capacity of rivers and floodplains to transport and store increased volumes of seasonal rainfall. Second, an integrated, sustainable approach is required because climate change affects almost all economic sectors and types of land use. Third, new spatial functions for the project area should be envisaged: for instance, in some Dutch cities, streams previously covered by roads and other urban infrastructure have been exposed. This has helped to cool the environment, increase water storage capacity, improve aesthetics and boost property values. Fourth, projects should have a broad spatial reach: for example, constructing a broad zone of marshes can prevent or limit the need for dam reinforcements downstream. Fifth, to maximise creativity and innovation, multiple stakeholders should participate, and sixth, they should take advantage of new opportunities that arise from links between key sectors such as agriculture, natural resource management, recreation, building, transport and tourism. Climate adaptation can be combined with a wide range of activities, such as greening cities, improving waterways and water supply, and enhancing natural areas. Seventh, the broad scope of such projects means that the benefits of climate adaptation can outweigh the costs, especially those that will be incurred in the future if adaptation measures are not undertaken. And eighth, adaptation projects can add quality (utility, soundness, beauty) to an area by bringing new elements into the landscape and directing the redesign of industrial areas. Therefore, because it encourages sustainable, long-term planning, climate adaptation should be viewed as an opportunity rather than as a costly imposition.

Reference: Swart, R. et al. 2014. Climate-proofing spatial planning and water management projects: an analysis of 100 local and regional projects in the Netherlands. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning 16(1), 55–74.