Let the sea rise, say the Dutch (With Images)

July 27th, 2008 - 2:30 pm ICT by IANS  

By Joydeep Gupta
Salzburg (Austria), July 27 (IANS) Seventy percent of the Netherlands is below the sea, making it more vulnerable than any other country to climate change-triggered rising sea levels. The Dutch plan to deal with this national threat in a unique way - by adapting to the rise rather than trying to halt it. “In the Netherlands, we’re facing the impact of climate change every single day,” said Pavel Kabat, the country’s chief planner on how to deal with this issue, and one of the lead authors of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for its seminal fourth report on the subject.

Speaking to delegates gathered from around the world at a recent session of the Salzburg Global Seminar on Combating Climate Change at Local and Regional Levels: Sustainable Strategies, Renewable Energy, Kabat pointed out that 80 percent of the Netherlands’ economic produce was from areas below sea level.

“But we have stopped seeing climate change as a threat,” Kabat said. “We now see it as an opportunity.”

Illustrating the limits of technological fixes to rising sea levels from the sea barrier at Rotterdam harbour, which had been built to cater to a once-in-a-century flood, Kabat said: “We have calculated that if the sea level rise is just half a metre, which will definitely happen, the main barrier at Rotterdam harbour will have to close about 50 times a year.

“You can imagine what that means to the economy of a harbour that has 27 ships coming and going every hour. So this technological fix will not do.

“The same goes for raising our dikes. Already, there are parts of our country six metres below sea level. We cannot keep raising our dikes higher. And if there’s a breach in a dike, it will affect the region responsible for 80 percent of our economic produce.”

Kabat illustrated what the Dutch planners plan to do instead. “Take the case of the Rhine, which flows through the Netherlands. Its level will also rise. We can keep raising the dikes on both sides. But how long can we do that?

“So instead, what we plan to do is to break the dikes on one side. Let the extra water flow there. And we’ll change the land use pattern on that side so that people on whose land the water will then flow can start commercial fishing or a similar activity.”

It’s a very new philosophy,” as Kabat pointed out. “It is the difference between hard infrastructure (as now) and allowing the water to rise and accommodating it as a part of your development.”

“Let us not try to keep the water from coming,” Kabat said. “Let it come, when it does. Let us adapt to it. That is the basic idea.”

How will the Dutch protect the actual coast?

Again, they plan to use local material. The North Sea bed has a huge reservoir of sand - and the Dutch are planning to dredge that up and create artificial islands in a line parallel to the coast to break sea surges.

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