Mainstreaming climate adaptation into water management in the Netherlands: The governance of the Dutch Delta Program

S.E. Werners, K.H. van de Sandt, A.M.J. Jaspers

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paper


Whereas the literature on adaptation is rich in detail on impacts, vulnerability and limits to adaptation, less is known about governance systems that facilitate adaptation in practice. This paper offers preliminary conclusions on the constraints and opportunities for mainstreaming adaptation to climate change into water management in the Netherlands. We use the term mainstreaming for the integration of adaptation actions into ongoing sectoral planning to reduce climate vulnerability. In particular we look at the integration of climate adaptation and water management, currently underway in the implementation of the Dutch Delta Program. The Delta Program is an integral policy program executed by the Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment. The paper analyses the current implementation of the Delta program in the Netherlands according to the dimensions of the Earth System Governance framework: Architecture, Agents, Adaptiveness, Accountability, Allocation and Knowledge. The analysis suggests that all five governance dimensions are considered to capitalise on opportunities for successfully planning and implementing the Delta Program and its subprograms. Architecture gets most attention at present, but the implementation depends on the subprograms and varies over time. Program bodies generally bring together government agencies from different levels of government (national, provincial, municipal and water boards). A challenge for the new emerging program bodies is to move towards legitimate, accountable ánd adaptive governance. The program so far has little attention for coalitions of government actors and non-government actors or conferring accountability to stakeholders. One of the aims of the Delta Program is innovation of water management. At present science has few strategies analysed or tested to support this innovation. Typical advice includes encouraging innovation through a rich variety of experiments and transition approaches that probe possible directions. Although the Delta Act provides in setting up experiments, financial support is conditional on co-financing and so far subprograms do not plan for such experiments. The fragmented implementation of the delta program could be turned into advantage by recognising different subprograms as a set of experiments, from which actors can learn. The analysis suggests more attention could be given to experiments that test and debate new ideas through collaboration between recognised actors from civil society, policy and science. Promising options for pilots could be the integration of agro-environmental land use systems that regulate regional climate impacts on water systems with new technologies, organisational responsibilities and financial instruments. Here governance faces creating flexible financial instruments that facilitate benefit- and burden-sharing, social learning and that support potentially better-adapted new strategies rather than compensate for climate impacts on existing activities. A challenge remains how to scale up regional pilot results to what is required for long-term national safety
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Event2009 Amsterdam Conference on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change, Amsterdam, The Netherlands -
Duration: 2 Dec 20094 Dec 2009


Conference2009 Amsterdam Conference on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change, Amsterdam, The Netherlands


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