Within the framework of water-related adaptation specified by the Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement, representatives of Mexican institutions working in the field of water management were invited to participate in a study trip to Germany and the Netherlands. The trip was organized by the Mexican-German Climate Change Alliance, a project implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB). We traveled across the Netherlands and Germany, observing the threats posed by water resources related to climate change to the cities, and the adaptive measures implemented in these countries to enhance protection and transform threats into opportunities.
We visited the Netherlands and Germany to learn about flooding in the Dutch cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague; and in the German cities of Cologne, Essen, Hamburg and Berlin. In light of climate change and spreading urbanization, these cities have been increasingly exposed to flood risks due to changes in rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and diminished infiltration, and are facing the challenge of managing water more efficiently.
Water-related adaptation in urban planning
The responsible authorities for urban planning and provision of sewerage and sanitation services in these cities have explained to us how they have incorporated flood risk management in their urban planning, implementing adaptation actions to generate water-resilient cities.
Under the framework of the EU Floods Directive, these European cities have established flood risk management plans under which intense rainfall water is collected, temporarily stored, controlled and then channeled for urban use. Based on this logic, their plans point to turning “water-proof cities” into “sponge cities”, which are able to handle and actually benefit from water caused by extreme rainfall. We learned about the Spatial Adaptation of the Delta Program, which has been adopted in the Netherlands and aims to implement spatially planned, climate-proof and water-resilient cities by 2050, which are able to cope with the main effects of climate change.
In Amsterdam we learned about the city’s Rainproof Plan and in Rotterdam about the Waterplan 2.
In Cologne, we saw the city’s vulnerability to the flooding of the river Rhine, but we also learned about interesting solutions that have been implemented by the project “HWRod” and the citizen prevention protocol “Passport against flooding”.
We got to know Hamburg’s vulnerability to the river Elbe, increasingly intense rainfall as well as exposure to astronomical tides. To adapt to this problem, the Rain and Drainage Infrastructure Adaptation Program has been implemented (RISA as per the acronym in German).
At the Berlin Senate, we learned about the city’s Klima Konkret project, which aims to make the city water-sensitive through strategies and infrastructure that make processes of percolation, evaporation, storage, retention and drain of rainfall water more efficient.
As an example of adaptation to handle heat islands, the Department of Water Management of the city of Essen, Germany, guided us in the Onckenstr/Niebuhrstr zone, an urban center that has introduced a successful design aimed at utilizing rainwater collection to cool the area.
Adaptation in coastal areas
From the cities we went to the Dutch coasts (Delfland) and to the German coasts to learn about managing flood risks caused by rising sea levels and the presence of hydrometeorological phenomena such as astronomical tides and oceanic swells.
We learned about the vulnerability of the settlements on the Dutch coast in the presence of climate change. According to their scenarios, the sea level could increase from 35 to 85 centimeters by 2050 and the temperature by up to 2°. We also learned about their Coastal Aquifer Storage and Recovery Master Plan.
In the north of Germany, on the shores of the Baltic Sea, the temperature has increased by one degree and sea levels by two and a half meters over the last 100 years. Researchers of the Institute of Geography at the Christian-Albrechts University taught us about the coastal risk management of fjord Eckernförde and the Schilksee coastal zone. They described the threats to its shores by ocean storms and swells on the cliffs, as well as the actions of the Climate Alliance of the Bay of Kiel.
Examples of adaptation at the local level
As examples of successful adaptation measures, we saw projects that have been internationally recognized for their social and environmental impact, such as the Dakakker in Rotterdam. The Dakakker is one of the largest roofed farms in Europe, which is capable of absorbing up to 60,000 liters of rainfall water. Additionally, it generates a source of community income thanks to its urban garden on a 1000 square-meter site.
We also visited one of the largest sanitation projects in Europe that has given the city of Essen the “2017 European Green Capital” award. The Emscher river renaturation project has managed to revert river pollution, turning the river into an ecosystem.
We learned about important climate services that reused wastewater can provide for at the Science and Technology Adliershof Park and at the plant of the department store IKEA.
Finally, we concluded the study trip meeting researchers of the Potsdam Institute, who have summed up that the adaptation of the European cities we visited focuses on three main areas: governance, with the implementation of the EU Water Framework and Floods Directives; technical and structural measures focusing mainly on prevention; and financial measures such as a culture of insurance and financing options for damage compensation.
Additionally, it is important to recognize that cities as highly-polluting population concentrations must turn into more linear, denser, smaller and greener places, reducing emissions and exerting less pressure on the countryside thanks to citizens’ different consumption patterns.
The study trip took place from November 27 to December 8, 2017. Government representatives from the following Mexican institutions participated: Directorate General of Climate Change of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), the National Water Commission (CONAGUA), the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC), the Institute of Water Technology (IMTA), the Ministry of Urban Development and Environment of the Government for the State of Yucatan (SEDUMA) and the Technical Committee of Underground Waters of the Yucatan Peninsula Basin Council.