The Delta Programme is on track. The vast majority of the measures agreed upon are being implemented as planned, and as yet, no delays have been encountered that could jeopardise the attainment of the goals. The parties are regularly examining whether external developments necessitate an adjustment of the course. The analyses initiated by the Signal Group will provide more insight into this in the years ahead. The Signal Group is composed of experts from Rijkswaterstaat (the executive branch of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment), the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute KNMI, Deltares research institute, and Wageningen University. It is led by the Staff of the Delta Programme Commissioner. The Delta Programme is working out the preferential strategies in more concrete terms and identifying interim goals or benchmarks for the period from 2020 to 2050 in order to be able to determine whether the preferential strategies need to be adjusted in the light of external developments. The proposals for such adjustment, based on the more concrete elaboration of the strategies, will be incorporated into Delta Programme 2019.
Signal Group meetings held in the spring of 2017 have yielded an initial overview of external developments. Prior to the meetings, the Staff of the Delta Programme Commissioner had asked a group of experts from outside the water domain for their views on relevant developments using the Delphi method (see box), in order to encourage the Signal Group members to adopt a broad perspective. The initial overview drawn up by the Signal Group shows two potentially important developments:
See Background Document B: Report and findings of the Delta Programme 2018 Signal Group including fact sheets and references.
Measurements and new research indicate that the sea level is rising more rapidly than has been assumed in the delta scenarios. This still needs scientific confirmation by the IPCC. In 2021, the KNMI will need to translate this into new forecasts for the Dutch coast. In anticipation, the Signal Group is exploring and mapping out the potential consequences for the Delta Programme. The results will be presented in Delta Programme 2019. The increase in severe downpours is already manifest in measurements and forecasts for the future, and bears physical explanation. This development constitutes one of the justifications for the Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation, and will be accommodated in the Climate-proof City focus area. The Delta Programme Commissioner has entered into dialogue with expert weather presenters on climate change, its impact in terms of weather extremes, the potential consequences for the Netherlands, and communication on this topic.
The organisations participating in the Signal Group specialise in the physical domain (such as climate change and water management); this is where the main Delta Programme taskings lie. In its identification of relevant developments, the Signal Group will logically also focus on developments in the physical domain. To ensure that other types of developments, such as societal trends, are factored in as well, and to provide the Signal Group with a broad basis from which to start its activities, the Delta Programme has enlisted the assistance of twenty experts from outside the world of water.
These external experts from government circles, the science sector, and NGOs have used the so-called Delphi method to weigh in on external developments that could have a large impact on the preferential strategies of the Delta Programme. Under this method, the experts answer several rounds of questionnaires. The anonymised answers are given in a personal capacity on the basis of ready knowledge and personal experience. The following five developments have come up most frequently:
1. Accelerated climate change
Accelerated climate change impacts all the Delta Programme themes, among other ways because of the decrease in drainage options, hindrance to inland water transport (more frequent excessively low and high water levels), and longer periods of freshwater shortage than currently being reckoned with.
2. IT developments
On the one hand, new technological advances open up opportunities for the Delta Programme, for example, by enabling new types of measures, more efficient monitoring, and new communication methods. On the other hand, the water system may become more vulnerable to power and IT failures, hacking, and terrorist attacks.
The importance of cyber security must not be underestimated. The Netherlands is dependent on many IT systems that control vital processes, including in the fields of flood risk management and freshwater supply. A cyber attack on these systems could result in, e.g., failure of a pumping station, sluice, lock, or storm surge barrier, with potentially serious consequences. The Delta Programme Commissioner has brought this topic to the notice of the water managers, recommending that they press ahead with the protection of their crucial IT systems against cyber-related threats, and raise the protection level of such systems.
3. Energy transition
The Delphi respondents call attention to the opportunities for expanding the water management contribution to the energy transition. The water managers acknowledge the ways in which water management can contribute to the energy transition, and are joining forces to further expand this. The contributions pertain to energy generation, energy storage, and the reduction of energy consumption. This ties in with the ambition pursued by the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, viz. to ensure full energy-neutrality in the infrastructure managed by Rijkswaterstaat (roads, waterways, flood defence systems, sluices, locks, bridges) by 2030. At the end of 2016, Rijkswaterstaat and the district water boards entered into an energy coalition – in addition to the ongoing Green Deal – to give impetus to the realisation of the energy goals. In the decades ahead, the energy transition will leave its mark on spatial developments, along with climate adaptation. This is also manifest in the investment agenda that the municipalities, provinces, and district water boards have drawn up in the purview of the formation of a new Cabinet. In addition, the energy transition is producing a different range of vital and vulnerable infrastructure because of the switch from fossil fuels to greener and more locally generated energy.
4. Energetic society
With the advent of the energetic society, the Delta Programme taskings will tend to be addressed through private initiatives by residents, businesses, and farmers rather than through an official administrative process. The Delphi respondents foresee that insurance companies and pension funds will play a part in this, through social co-acting and investments.
5. Circular economy
In a circular economy, water can be regarded as an economically scarce commodity and a bearer of economic prosperity. This calls for increased attention in the freshwater supply strategies to loop closure and to the distribution of water across the Netherlands.
The Signal Group has taken these developments into consideration in its inventory. On the basis of the criteria adopted (the development has been observed in measurements, forecasts indicate that the development will continue in the future, and there is a causal explanation for the occurrence of the development), the Signal Group has established that only the first of these five developments compels a reconsideration and possibly an adjustment of the preferential strategies. The Delta Programme will, however, have the other four developments elaborated further in order to check whether the Delta Programme forgoes opportunities for combining the preferential strategies with these developments.
Investment agenda of the Association of Provincial Authorities IPO, the Association of Dutch Regional Water Authorities UvW, and the Association of Netherlands Municipalities VNG, Naar een duurzaam Nederland – energieneutraal, klimaatbestendig en circulair [Towards a sustainable Netherlands – energy-neutral, climate-proof, and circular].