On May 26, GMF's Climate & Energy Program hosted a lunch event on Capitol Hill entitled Rising tides in a warming world: Coping with climate change in the United States, the Netherlands, and developing countries. The purpose of the event was to facilitate discussion among thought leaders in U.S. and European climate and development communities on climate adaptation and water policies. Annemieke Nijhof, Director General of Water Management at the Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works, and Water Management, delivered a presentation on how the Netherlands, a country where over 60 percent of the population live below sea level, is coping with rising sea levels, droughts, and flooding linked to climate change. Stephen Seidel, Vice President for Policy Analysis and General Counsel at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, outlined ways the United States could mainstream climate change within the federal government. David Waskow, Climate Change Program Director at Oxfam America, highlighted the climate change risks in developing countries and how U.S. foreign assistance could be better mobilized to manage climate change and other global impacts. Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, Senior Director of Policy Programs at GMF, moderated the event.
Annemieke Nijhof started off the discussion by outlining national adaptation and water management policies in the Netherlands. In 2008, the Delta Commission, a government program established to examine methods to protect the Netherlands from increased flooding as a result of climate change, released a report outlining the most important proposals for securing low lying areas of the country over the next 100 years. Its recommendations include:
- Increasing flood protections at the dikes
- Requiring developers to submit future building plans in flood prone areas to a cost-benefit analysis
- Protecting rivers' discharge capacities and current water levels
- Creating a ministerial steering committee and a parliamentary committee
- Establishing a "Delta Fund" to finance the implementation of the recommendations with revenues from natural gas.
In 2010, the Delta Act, which comprises the findings and recommendations of the Delta Commission, was legally adopted. Annemieke credits the success of the Delta Commission and subsequent Delta Act to broad public support; awareness of the acute and imminent threat rising sea levels poses to the nation; and water management and climate adaptation policies' broad political support in the Netherlands.
Stephen Seidel discussed how the United States is late in the game to develop long-term national adaptation policies due to the resilience of the broad U.S. public assumption that the climate is not changing. Although more attention needs to be focused on adaptation policy at the national level, significant progress has been made since Obama took office. From May 25-27, the White House Office of Science & Technology hosted a three-day strategy summit in Washington exclusively on adaptation policy. A national adaptation taskforce comprising 23 federal agencies was created, and the Department of the Interior, NOAA, and the Department of Defense have hit the ground running on climate adaptation research and development.
To date, the majority of U.S. adaptation policy efforts have occurred at the state and local levels. Ten (primarily coastal) states as well as several key metropolitan areas, including New York City, Chicago, and King County in Washington State, have developed adaptation action plans. The plans include strategic infrastructure development, extreme weather warning systems, and the identification of high risk communities that may require relocation. While tremendous progress has been made at the state and local levels, the federal government is needed to provide the resources and research capacity to help direct local action with knowledge and expertise. In an ideal world, sufficient government resources would be available to subsidize state and local planning.
David Waskow discussed climate change's disproportionate impact on populations in developing countries that generally lack the necessary infrastructure and resources to develop and implement long-term adaptation strategies. A recent study by the World Bank found that 7 billion dollars per year will need to be dedicated to agricultural issues, 13-19 billion dollars per year to water management, and 30 billion dollars per year to the protection of coastal zones in order for developing countries to effectively adapt to climate change. However, the industrialized countries' financing pledge under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord does not come close to meeting these requirements. David argued that developed countries have more than a moral obligation to help least developed countries (LDCs) adapt to the impacts of climate change. U.S. based countries like Levi Strauss and Starbucks have economic stakes in the debate as the impact of climate change in developing countries threaten natural resources that are essential to their success. There are many opportunities for businesses to protect their economic interests while working with developing countries on adaptation efforts.
Despite economic and political hurdles, over 40 LDCs have developed national adaptation programs of action under the UNFCCC that are partially funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). These plans represent a significant first step toward putting in place national adaptation policies.
Participants were interested in how the Netherlands was able to develop a national strategy on climate adaptation given the political difficulty of long-term policy planning and implementation. Annemieke argued that public support and awareness of the acute and imminent threat rising sea levels poses to the survival of the entire country have sustained action at the national level. Furthermore, he stressed how climate change's nonpartisan nature in the Netherlands, unlike its divisive power in the United States, allowed for consistent political support. David noted that success is also dependent on cooperation among different economic sectors and that planning needs to be collaborative across the economy in order for action to be institutionalized.
The discussion also focused on the role of the private sector in the Netherland's adaptation efforts. Many participants were surprised to hear that flood insurance is not privatized in the Netherlands since corporations could simply not cover the costs if flooding were to occur. Protection against flooding rests solely with the government.
Participants were interested in whether it was possible for national commissions like the Delta Commission to exist in developing countries given the lack of infrastructure and political stability. Should strategy focus on better cooperation among existing governing structures, or should new institutions dedicated to adaptation be created? David acknowledged the topic's controversial nature and the existence of expert support for both sides of the debate, but said he was personally weary of creating a new political silo that would not integrate well into the rest of the government. Instead, funds, capacity, and knowledge should be mainstreamed in current government institutions. The "mainstreaming" model has also been adopted by the United States as the decision was made for existing structures to take on adaptation issues instead of creating a new agency.