International symposium on adaptive management of urbanised deltas

Published on: 23 November 2023 - Latest update: 23 November 2023, 14:50

To mark its 225th anniversary, Rijkswaterstaat organised an international symposium on the adaptive management of urbanised deltas. From 1 to 3 November, guests from more than 20 countries gathered in the heart of Delft to discuss – and work on – climate-proof networks. And to address the pressing environmental issues of our time.

During the symposium, we shared knowledge with our international partners and helped each other gain new insights. While we face the same climate change challenges, local conditions differ. This raises the question: what extreme floods and droughts should we prepare ourselves for? And what are the implications for water distribution and the safety of the flood defences that protect us?

Special encounters

In Expo Arsenaal Delft, the outgoing Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, Mark Harbers, and the Deputy Director-General of Rijkswaterstaat Patricia Zorko opened the symposium. Zorko emphasised how special it was to welcome so many colleagues from different countries as participants in the sessions and discussions: ‘It’s extremely important to keep our environment safe and to share our knowledge. Let’s work together, and let’s learn together.’

Harbers appealed to those present: ‘Climate change affects us all. We need to step up the pace and join forces. Knowledge must flow like our rivers.’

Setting the scene: perspectives from executive infrastructure and water agencies

Professor Joyeeta Gupta of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) was one of the five keynote speakers and spoke about safe and just Earth system boundaries. ’We need to change really fast,' was her message. Speakers from other parts of the world also emphasised the power and value of cooperation in their keynotes. The climate is changing, but it is still not clear to everyone by which path. That’s why it is crucial that we continue to reassess whether the choices we have made are still the right ones going forward. Miriam Haritz, Deputy Head of Department at the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection: ‘We may need to adapt the plans we make today, tomorrow.’

In the afternoon, discussions took place in sub-groups. These discussions took place in different (historical) places in the city. The group on resilient coasts went to the Hoogheemraadschap van Delfland. The council chamber of the town hall welcomed the group on climate-resilient waterways. And the former house of Lambert van Meerten opened its doors to the vital urban nodes group. During the sessions, several guest speakers took the floor. And there was space to share experiences and reflect on the various tasks.

Day full of excursions

Day 2 was all about excursions. The participants of the sub-groups went out to explore. This included visits to the Maeslantkering, the Oosterscheldekering and the locks in IJmuiden. Unfortunately, some of the excursions had to be changed due to the storm Ciarán. By changing the plans at the last minute, the organisation showed how adaptable it is, which is also important regarding climate change.

Working together for the future

During the final day, there was a closing plenary session on common challenges and goals. Dutch Water Envoy Meike van Ginneken and Marlouke Durville – Managing Director of Water, Transport and Environment at Rijkswaterstaat – closed the symposium. They again emphasised the importance of working together. Durville: ‘Continue to share the knowledge that exists within your organisation and reach out to stakeholders. Find communities working on the same issues. The challenges ahead require not only the involvement of different types of engineers, but especially other disciplines like behavioral scientists, philosophers, and communication experts.’

All countries have common issues. But there are different solutions and challenges. How do we ensure that we also look for each other outside of crises? The good news is that the connections made during the symposium provide a basis for the future.