After 2050, the Deluge?
: Explaining Why the Netherlands Is Not Preparing for Sea Level Rise Through Climate Adaptation Lock-Ins

  • B. De Botselier

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Considering the Netherlands’ vulnerability to sea level rise (SLR), the question is raised to what extent it is prepared to cope with long term SLR. To what extent does coastal risk management in the Netherlands, which is centred around the Delta Programme, consider a range of policy options to accommodate more extreme scenarios of SLR? And what mechanisms explain why policy options accommodating more extreme scenarios of SLR are (not) being considered? This thesis aims to address both questions and offers a study of the main policy initiatives in coastal risk management in the Netherlands, with an analysis of the Delta Programme. In order to answer the first research question, this thesis provides an overview of relevant policy initiatives by distinguishing between protection, accommodation, attack and retreat based strategies. These categories were first identified by the Dronkers et al. (1990) and were also used by Haasnoot et al. (2019) in the context of the Delta Programme.
Based on this overview, the thesis concludes that Dutch coastal risk management is designed in light of projections until 2050, as such continuing the protection-based approach of human intervention through sand nourishment and hard infrastructure and with limited attention for so-called no-regret measures. This current strategy is not well suited to respond to long term needs and is not well adapted to more extreme scenarios of SLR. The focus on the period until 2050 raises the question as to what comes in the second half of this century. “After 2050, the deluge?”, to paraphrase the expression first used by French King Louis XV. The post-2050 period is discussed and studied in ongoing research projects, but is largely absent from policy documents and the political agenda.
The thesis then deductively applies the concept of lock-in to analyse the main stumbling blocks hindering the incorporation of more long term climate adaptation concerns into Dutch coastal risk management. A combination of interlinked and sometimes mutually reinforcing technological, behavioural and institutional lock-in mechanisms is identified. The Delta Works have created a technological lock-in through the construction of inflexible storm surge barriers and dams, also contributing to high public confidence in hard coastal defences. The Delta Fund’s focus on flood safety until 2050 does not incentivise more extreme scenarios of SLR to be taken into account. Based on eleven expert interviews, it is observed that a multitude of actors and different levels of government are involved in Dutch coastal risk management, resulting in neither level of government assuming full responsibility to ensure that long term considerations and more extreme scenarios of SLR are taken into account. This thesis argues that this constitutes a lock-in mechanism based on responsibility avoidance, which has not yet been identified in the literature. By following an inductive approach and drawing on game theory, the thesis argues that the responsibility avoidance mechanism is a useful addition to the literature on lock-ins. It is finally concluded that the development of a national vision on spatial development and climate adaptation could help overcome the lock-in mechanisms.
Date of Award24 Jan 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLisanne Groen (Examiner) & Dave Huitema (Co-assessor)

Master's Degree

  • Master Environmental Sciences

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