Netherlands Netherlands Netherlands Netherlands


Transport, Infrastructure and Building The Netherlands

Climate proofing of infrastructure is about making infrastructure more flexible and resilient, and reducing the vulnerability to climate extremes by compartmentalizing and redundancy (1).

Flexibility means that adjustments to infrastructure can easily be made to adapt to climate change. An example is coastal flood protection through beach nourishments. Resilient means that negative consequences of climate extremes can be restored easily, such as electricity connections after a storm. Compartmentalizing is about making compartments with respect to a threat such that a disaster is limited to a certain area. An example is the system of diked areas in The Netherlands. Infrastructure is redundant when there are spare facilities that compensate for the failing of other infrastructure, such as water reservoirs in the urban environment that store the water of heavy downpour that the sewage system cannot cope with (1).

Vulnerabilities - Building

The need to cut back CO2-emissions and the ever higher energy costs probably will result in a strong increase of the number of installations that extract energy from the temperature of groundwater. The possible impact of these installations on the quality of groundwater and the subsoil ecosystem is yet unknown. Besides, these installations may damage the clay strata that limit the intrusion of salt into the fresh water environment. These impacts may occur both in the urban environment and in areas with greenhouses (2).

The urban environment in the low-lying parts of the country will suffer more from flooding, especially because of heavy downpour. More drainage will be needed, which during dry summers may cause the groundwater level to drop to such an extent that wooden foundations start to rot. The shrinking of clay in the subsoil during droughts may also damage foundations (2).

The changing climate has the potential regionally to increase premature deterioration and weathering impacts on the built environment, exacerbating vulnerabilities to climate extremes and disasters and negatively impacting the expected and useful life spans of structures (8).  

Vulnerabilities - Shipping

When the Rhine discharge drops below about 1000 to 1200 m3/s, ships on the major transport route Rotterdam-Germany-Basle cannot be fully loaded, and transporting costs rise. The average annual number of days that the Rhine discharge at Lobith is below 1000 m3/s may increase from 19 (under present day conditions) to 26-34, depending on the climate change scenario (3). For the Rhine, low flow situations with water-levels below a certain threshold for navigation have occurred throughout the 20th century. A clear trend is not discernible in the data, however, neither in the duration nor in the frequency of low flow situations (15).

In countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, inland waterway transport has a substantial share in freight transport (measured in ton-kilometers or ton-miles) with 33, 18 and 13 % in 2010, respectively (12). Both in the dry cargo Rhine fleet and in the tanker Rhine fleet, the Dutch fleet forms about 50 % of total capacity. The Rhine corridor is by far the most important inland waterway in Europe in terms of volume transported (63 % of total volume in Europe in 2006). This is mainly because the Rhine connects the seaports of Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Antwerp with large industrial areas in Germany. The cargo types most transported are metal ores, coke and petroleum products, followed by coal. In the Netherlands, transport on the Rhine River between the port of Rotterdam and the German hinterland as far as Koblenz is particularly important. On this route the largest problem is expected to be a decrease in river water depth. Additional problems are more frequent closures of the Maeslant storm surge barrier due to sea level rise, thus limiting access to the Port of Rotterdam, and incidental problems with the passage of high inland vessels under the bridges at occasional periods of high water levels (6).

For the year 2003, a very dry summer that can be seen as a typical year in the most extreme climate scenario (W+) for the Netherlands, the welfare loss for the Rhine market plus the Moselle market as a result of higher transport prices, is estimated to lie between € 194 million and € 263 million. As a result of the higher transport prices for inland waterway transport about 5% of its cargo is estimated to shift to competing transport modes on an annual basis due to climate change. In addition, in periods with low water levels the number of inland waterway trips increases by about 10% because ships must navigate with low load factors (7).

At extremely low water levels, the price per tonne for inland waterway transport in the river Rhine area will almost double. These increased transport prices result in welfare losses. For the dry summer of 2003, the losses for North West Europe have been estimated to sum up to around €480 million. Shipping may benefit from the low water periods because the temporary reduction in capacity may have a further upward pressure on prices. The clients of the inland waterway transport sector will in the end shift the burden to the final consumers. This means that the economic effects of low water levels are diffused thinly across large groups of consumers (11).

In the most extreme scenario of climate change that is used in Dutch assessments on the impact of climate change, transportation costs by inland shipping are expected to increase by 9% to 23%. This is due to increased occurrences of extreme high and low water levels. In the worst case scenario, a 10-day period with the lowest water level, the decrease in transport capacity is up to 28% in all inland navigation to and from the Netherlands. These percentages could be substantially higher on specific corridors between Rotterdam and Germany. Of this decreased capacity, 88% will shift to rail transport and 12% to road transport. A shift from the Port of Rotterdam to other European seaports is expected to be low, except in prolonged dry periods (6).

Bulk cargo companies vulnerabilities at low water on the Rhine

Mass-cargo-affine companies are companies that depend on mass cargo, like coal fired power plants, chemical industry or steel industry. Traditionally they settle along river banks to be able to use inland navigation as a cheap and reliable way of transport. During low water periods however, the capacity of inland navigation vessels is reduced and therefore the transport amount is limited, while the transport demand stays on the same high level. This affects their security of supply. The vulnerability of bulk cargo companies along the River Rhine to low water periods has been studied for the near future (2021–2050) and the distant future (2071–2100), and compared with the period 1961–1990. The future projections are based on results of a number of climate models and two IPCC SRES emissions scenarios (B1 and A1B) (17).

A discrepancy between the transport amount and the transport demand may result in a deviation of optimal storage and may thus affect continuity of business processes. The projected deviation of optimal storage was largest in autumn: -1.5% (B1-scenario) to -6 % (A1B) for 2021–2050, and -8% (B1 scenario) to -15% (A1B) for 2071–2100. Analysis of the inter-annual variability shows that, in individual years, individual companies may experience up to 18 (B1 scenario) or 45 days with empty storage toward the end of the century, most of them in a row in late summer and autumn. Also the number of years with days with empty storage increases. While till 2050 only one to two years per decade show days with empty storage, in the second half of the century on average at least every second year, shows days with empty storage (17).

Rhine–Main–Danube corridor

In Europe, the highest amount of cargo by means of inland waterways is transported in the Rhine–Main–Danube corridor. In this corridor, no decrease in the performance of inland waterway transport due to extreme weather events is expected till 2050 (18). Extreme weather events relevant to inland waterway transport are low-water events (drought), high-water events (floods) and ice occurrence. Of less importance are wind gusts and reduced visibility. There is no convincing evidence that low-water events will become significantly severer on the Rhine as well as the Upper Danube in the near future. However, on the Lower Danube, some impact of drought in association with increased summer heat might appear. Severe low-water situations seem to become more important in the period 2071–2100. A quantitative conclusion on the future effects of high water on inland waterways cannot be drawn at this stage (18).

Ice occurrence is decreasing, due to global warming, as well as human impacts leading to shorter periods of suspension of navigation in regions where navigation may be prevented by ice. In fact, the Upper and Middle Rhine navigation has not been suspended due to ice since at least the 1970s (19). For the near future (until 2050), wind gusts are expected to remain on the same level as today (20), thereby not decreasing the safety of inland waterway transport. Visibility seems to improve, if the results for European airports are considered (20), thereby improving the safety of inland waterway transport as well as operation of inland waterway vessels.

Vulnerabilities - Critical infrastructure

Increased drought frequencies can have severe impacts on stable energy supplies by hydroelectric power as riverbeds run dry (3).

Vulnerabilities - Roads

Higher temperatures could result in damage to infrastructure which would lead to higher maintenance costs. For example, higher temperatures can cause the road surface to melt, which will require changes in the technical development (4).

A reduction in the number of frost days is anticipated due to rising temperatures which may have a positive impact on transport. Less roads will need to be salted which provides direct economic benefits. Also, we would expect the number of road accidents during winter to decrease (4).

Changes in frequency and intensity of rainfall can have an effect on the frequency of flooding which in turn may cause a disruption of transportation services. … Sea-level rise and increased risk of coastal flooding may cause structural damage to both rail and road transport infrastructure in coastal areas. This is especially relevant for the Netherlands, which has the highest density of road and rail infrastructure in the low-lying coastal zones. The road network will be particularly sensitive to flooding as the capacity of drainage systems to remove excess water from the roads may be exceeded. Erosion of embankment and landslides may also be exacerbated by increased rainfall intensity (4).

Impacts on transport infrastructure similar to the ones due to climate change already occur at present (without considering climate change). Thus, the present policy is sufficient to adapt to climate change, for instance by gradually using a different kind of asphalt during road maintenance (5).

Vulnerabilities - Tipping points infrastructure

Small increases in climate extremes above thresholds or regional infrastructure ‘tipping points’ have the potential to result in large increases in damages to all forms of existing infrastructure nationally and to increase disaster risks (9). Since infrastructure systems, such as buildings, water supply, flood control, and transportation networks often function as a whole or not at all, an extreme event that exceeds an infrastructure design or ‘tipping point’ can sometimes result in widespread failure and a potential disaster (10).

Adaptation strategies - Building

By constructing new houses, urbanisations or even entire cities on floating facilities, it is easily imaginable that these new investments will be safe from any threat imposed by the expected water table changes that climate change may be causing in future. These constructions will have to be robust enough to allow both significantly higher water tables during periods of excessive precipitation and/or peak river runoff and periods of prolonged drought, during which the floating supports would actually be resting on firm ground (4).

Instead of building on floating supports, it is also possible to re-install the traditional preventive form of building of houses and/or industrial plants in flood-prone areas, namely on artificial mounds. Raising the terrain for construction, both of buildings and of infrastructure, up to above the expected maximum flooding level prior to actual building will provide the required risk standards for the use of buildings and infrastructure (4).

Building without cellars or crawl spaces below the level of the buildings is a well-accepted and increasingly applied adaptation strategy, by which the vulnerability of the buildings to damage caused by floods or high water tables can be significantly reduced (4).

Providing for roof gardens on flat roofs of houses or industrial buildings will help to cope more adequately with excessive peaks in local rainfall than bare roofs where falling water on a hard substrate is bound to cause damage (4).

Adaptation strategies - Roads

Most notable adaptation options for the transport sector include the development of more intelligent infrastructure including road and vehicle sensors serving as early warning indicators providing for adjustments in driving, and hence a decrease in the number of road accidents (4).

The introduction of a climate assessment for infrastructural projects may help to incorporate all possible climate impacts in decision-making. At present, decision-making does not sufficiently address the possible impacts of climate change. Not only does this increase the vulnerability, but it also results in missing opportunities, such as using heat-resistant material in major investments that are supposed to last for 100 years or more (1).

Adaptation strategies - Shipping

At present, there is no need to take measures for shipping in view of the consequences of climate change. If the climate appears to change faster than current projections indicate, adequate measures can still be taken in time (1).

In the short run, adaptation to low water periods can take place via modal shift to road and rail transport to avoid the high prices in water transport. Studies indicate that this shift will be modest (5–8 %) because even with low water, barges remain cheaper than their competitors on most of the relevant markets (13). Other options to adapt to low water periods on the short-term are to move barges from submarkets not affected by low water to markets that are affected and to make old barges that were withdrawn from the fleet operational again. On the long-term intensified water management (e.g., dredging) is most probably the more promising way to adapt to climate change (14). Adjustment to smaller ship size is unlikely; the advantages of large ships are so large that the current trend of increasing ship sizes may be expected to continue even when low water intervals become more frequent (11).

Some promising solutions for the consequences of climate change for inland navigation are (6):

  • River management: Waterway improvement and canalisation of the RhineWaterway. The improvement can be carried out by dredging and construction of structures such as groynes, fixed bed layers, bottom vanes, bendway weirs and longitudinal dams. This measure may increase the navigation depth by 10 to 50 cm.
  • Logistic management: Increasing the resilience and flexibility of the sector by modifying the supply chain. This can be accomplished by providing larger stock or storage capacity, alternative routes, other transport modalities, extra cargo handling facilities in ports and terminals.
  • Information management: ICT systems for inland shipping and the use of ICT in the waterway (Smart Waterways). The use of ICT systems for inland shipping can lead to a better exchange of traffic and cargo information. Navigability can be improved by providing up-to-date on-line information on current and expected water depths in the shipping route, expected bed topography, as well as real-time draught and trim of the vessel. Use of ICT in the waterway shipping would contribute considerably to managing navigability (approximately 20 cm increase in depth).
  • Fleet management: Using vessels with a smaller draught. These vessels can be constructed of light weight materials and or extra (temporary) buoyancy and they may be wider and longer.

Bulk cargo companies may reduce their vulnerability to low water on the river, and thus ensure continuity of business processes, by increasing their storage capacity for mass cargo. According to projections for the River Rhine, in 2021–2050 2.5% and in 2071–2100 25% extra storage capacity is needed to compensate the impact of lower water-levels in autumn (17).

An important aspect of increased risk of storms at sea leading to a decrease of fishing days necessitates the improvement of vessels, making them ‘storm-proof’ (4).

Adaptation strategies - global seaports

In an essay a group of port planners and operators, engineers, financers, economists, climate scientists and port policy makers distinguished between soft and hard strategies to make global ports more resilient with respect to climate change (16):

  • Soft strategies and least Regrets: Enhance emergency evacuation plans, Consider adaptation in long-range plans, Learn from those at the forefront, Create Financial instruments to support adaptation, Improve decision support tools and information, Increase standards of port construction to deal with higher winds, Increase funding for dredging and beach nourishment programs.
  • Hard strategies: Expand dredging and nourishment programs to handle increased quantity of sediment shifting, Increase Breakwater Dimensions, Move facilities and managed retreat, Raise port elevations, Raise transport levels or build coastal defences, Increase port size to deal with bottlenecks.

The Port of Rotterdam (Netherlands) is an example of a seaport that has already taken steps toward adaptation. This port joined forces with other stakeholders to develop the Rotterdam Climate Proof Programme, which aims to make the city “fully” resilient to climate change impacts by 2025 and ensure that Rotterdam remains one of the safest port cities in the world. The adaptation strategy focuses on flood safety, accessibility for ships and passengers, adaptive building, the urban water system, and city climate. New port developments including port reconstruction are designed to be climate-proof and climate change assessments are integrated into the port’s spatial planning (16).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for the Netherlands.

  1. Raad voor Verkeer en Waterstaat (2009)
  2. TNO Bouw en Ondergrond (2008)
  3. Middelkoop et al. (2001)
  4. Nillesen and Van Ierland (2006)
  5. Kennisinstituut voor Mobiliteitsbeleid van het Ministerie van Verkeer en Waterstaat (KiM) (2008), in: Raad voor Verkeer en Waterstaat (2009)
  6. Krekt et al. (2011)
  7. Jonkeren (2011)
  8. Auld (2008b); Larsen et al. (2008); Stewart et al. (2011), all in: IPCC (2012)
  9. Coleman (2002); Munich Re (2005); Auld (2008b); Larsen et al. (2008); Kwadijk et al. (2010); Mastrandrea et al. (2010), all in: IPCC (2012)
  10. Ruth and Coelho (2007); Haasnoot et al. (2009), both in: IPCC (2012)
  11. Jonkeren et al. (2014)
  12. Eurostat (2012), in: Jonkeren et al. (2014)
  13. Krekt et al. (2011), Jonkeren et al. (2011b), both in: Jonkeren et al. (2014)
  14. Demirel (2011), in: Jonkeren et al. (2014)
  15. Nilson et al. (2009)
  16. Becker et al. (2013)
  17. Scholten et al. (2014)
  18. Schweighofer (2014)
  19. WSD Südwest (2009), in: Schweighofer (2014)
  20. Vajda et al. (2011), in: Schweighofer (2014)