Few countries have as much experience dealing with rising sea levels as the Netherlands, a country which has been pursuing land reclamation and flooding abatement projects since as early as 500 BC1. Now, as the world turns its attention to the impacts of global climate change, many Dutch engineering firms are seizing this opportunity to export expertise and know how to help other countries react to the risks posed by rising sea levels.
More than just adorning post cards and tourism brochures, the often-pictured dikes and windmills are not just representative of the Dutch landscape, but rather are still-utilized elements of the Netherlands’ efforts to reclaim land from the sea. For centuries, the Dutch have been undertaking large public works projects to expand the land mass of the Netherlands and to protect the country from flooding. In recent years, the threat of rising sea levels caused by global climate change has been a point of concern for the Netherlands, but has also posed a key opportunity for many Dutch companies to assist other countries in planning ways to cope with rising sea levels as well.
One of these firms is Deltares (formerly Delft Hydraulics), an independent environmental consulting agency based out of the Netherlands. Deltares offers consulting services along five principal areas of expertise: flood risk modeling and abatement, adaptive delta planning, infrastructure planning and risk management, water and subsoil resource management, and general environmental consulting. With such a wide area of expertise, Deltares is able to assist governments in addressing all aspects of the risks posed by rising sea levels2. For example, Deltares can help governments model risk profiles for specific geographies and design tailor-made solutions to manage those risks with a suite of traditionally capital-intensive public works projects (such as dikes or sea walls). These high-cost solutions are also combined with lower tech solutions such as swamp management (swamps can serve as natural buffers to abate flooding during storms) and planting trees (to minimize erosion along rivers and canals). But more than just addressing the direct impacts of rising water levels, Deltares offers guidance on addressing many of the secondary implications of seawater intrusion like freshwater contamination and the loss of arable land. This in turn makes Deltares extremely competitive in the flood abatement space by addressing more than just the first-order impacts of rising sea levels.
One example of the sorts of projects Deltares has undertaken was a partnership with Singapore in 2007 to create a plan for the nation to protect itself from the risks of rising sea levels3. This partnership included Deltares, the National University of Singapore, and the public water management office of Singapore, and featured the creation of a $43M research center dedicated to addressing Singapore’s flood defense strategy. A highly populated island nation where most of the metropolitan area is just 2 meters above sea level, Singapore now feels much of the same concerns regarding rising sea levels which the Dutch have faced for generations4. However, through the efforts of the agencies involved, the collaboration was officially ended in 2014 when all project goals were met.
Ultimately, firms like Deltares stand to gain from the impacts of global climate change and rising sea levels. As perverse as it may be to connect a firm’s performance with an issue which may jeopardize the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world, these sorts of companies will profit by offering solutions to many of the problems posed by global climate change. The onus instead is on governments to partner with the private sector to face these challenges head on, and for private companies to offer meaningful solutions for their clients, rather than profiteer off the concerns of good-intentioned leaders of the world. Nevertheless, I am confident firms like Deltares will rise above the challenges before them and help stem the tide of global climate change and rising sea levels around the world.
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Photo credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9f/Extreem_hoogwater_Delfzijl._Ondergelopen_terrein_met_AKZO_op_de_achtergrond._329850s.jpg