Transatlantic Solutions to Sea Level Rise Adaptation:
Moving Beyond the Threat

October 30-31, 2013; Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

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Tipping Points and Adaptation Pathways

Eelco van Beek
Deltares and Twente University and UNESCO-IHE
The Netherlands

For a low-lying country as the Netherlands sea level rise is a serious issue. Not only does it impact our safety against flooding, it also restricts the fresh water availability in our delta as increased salt seawater intrusion is threatening our intakes. Although our safety level against flooding from the sea is high, 1:10,000 years, with each cm sea level rise this safety level goes down unless additional measures are taken. But what to do and when: not too much and not too little, not too early but certainly not too late. In a democratic society such as the Netherlands citizens’ perceptions play a major role in deciding what to do and when. These perceptions can be political based but are also, and maybe in particular, influenced by events. A very high storm surge at the North Sea can be a good warning to the decision makers to take action but also events far away from the Netherlands such as Katrina and Sandy influence our perceptions. But how to act under an uncertain future? How much sea level can we expect in 2050 and 2100? Traditionally, scientists focus their research on providing climate services that aim to reduce uncertainty about the future through (climate) monitoring and modelling. However, this alone is insufficient for decision makers. In dealing with uncertainties, the act of anticipating by means of decision services is at least as important. Decision services start from the assumption that the future is inherently unpredictable, accept uncertainties and act from there. The decision service approach used in the Netherlands is the exploration of tipping points and adaptation pathways that supports decision making on short term actions while keeping options open to adapt. This short talk will highlight some of these scientific developments and discusses their usefulness.