ULI Netherlands Roundtable: Climate resilience needs a connected approach

Highlights from the Global Best Practice Climate Resilience Roundtable kindly hosted by Circl/ABN AMRO

A startling and insightful roundtable on the 12th November explored the preparedness of our urban environment for climate resilience and adaption.  Framed by two presentations, the first by Adam Greenfader, Chair, SE Florida and Caribbean who shared first-hand experiences and challenges from hurricanes across the Caribbean,. The second presentation was provided by Henk Ovink, Dutch special envoy to the United Nations on Water and flood expert who outlined the central role water plays as an indicator as well as a resource that should be managed to ensure climate resilience.  

Building Physical, Economic and Social Resilience – Tao Baja and Puerto Rico – Adam Greenfader, Chair, ULI SE Florida and Caribbean

The Caribbean is known for the occurrence of hurricanes but, the intensity and frequency of these storms are increasing, where category 4-5 are becoming the norm. A further challenge is that these storms are reducing in land speed, leading to longer periods of destruction and when combined with increased frequency areas that are affected have limited to no opportunity to recover.

Puerto Rico which was hit by Hurricane Maria in 2017 (category 5) resulted in almost 100% of residents without power, most without water and communications, a staggering 300,000 fatalities and 150,000 people emigrating within 24 months. To further add to the challenge, the US territory has been in recession for over 10 years and almost half of the population live in poverty.

ULI recognised that our members could play an important role in supporting the recovery of Puerto Rico and delivered an Advisory Service Panel for the Municipality of Tao Baja.  Some of the challenges facing the country include:

  • Half of Puerto Rico’s 1.5million homes are informal
  • Building codes are not adhered to or strictly enforced
  • Two storey dwellings are no longer sufficient to meet large hurricane levels  
  • Energy storage typically only lasts for 5 days
  • Hotels become refuges for both community and disaster relief personnel as they often have sufficient sanitation, water and power supply, with occupancy rising to 100%

The US Government has acknowledged the challenge and has offered a $20billion in funds for the Puerto Rico Disaster Recovery Action Plan. However, to deliver on this plan will require Puerto Rico to reimagine how the buildings, streets, infrastructure and natural environment can become climate resilient. The region is also economically challenged and engagement with international expertise is therefore essential for the region to truly innovate and support the shift to a new paradigm of climate resilience.

See links at the end to view Adam’s slides and the Advisory Report Findings.

Are we living in the right places? Henk Ovink,

Water is a primary challenge across the world as recognised by the UN and many leading countries as a result of increased droughts, floods and access to clean water have also led to increasing levels of climate migration.

Miami, Florida is at the forefront of a water challenge where full moon tides make roads impassable due to sea water rising out of the ground. Discussing this topic with homeowners in Miami is a taboo while Jakarta, Indonesia has a friendlier relationship with water and accepts that flooding is part of life and business carries on as ‘usual’.

Should the world be more prepared for climate migration? A recent report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) titled ‘Climate Change and Land’ provides insights into land implications due to a changing climate and may provide clues for long-term urban investment. In addition, the report also highlights that over the last 100 years the approach to short-term investment returns has increased climate vulnerability.  

Another IPPC report ‘The Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate provides further acknowledgement of the growing uncertainty of how far global climate patterns may change. Increasing sea levels and rising sea temperatures may dramatically alter global weather patterns, and in particular the Gulf Stream, which is predicted to slow or even reverse, altering climate conditions across Europe, North America and the Caribbean.

Changing climate conditions

  • By 2050 sea levels may rise by 1 meter – most global cities are located in areas that will be influenced by rising sea level. Are we really preparing for these changes?
  • Hydro power is seen as a clean energy solution – the damming of rivers creates dead zones as a result of sea water entering the lower delta and water table  
  • In the past high category hurricanes occurred typically every 10yrs but are now occurring every 2yrs – areas will never recover within these periods leading to long-term implications for populations and the ecology

Many projects (development, investment etc), are based on a business case determined from historic figures. The economic outcome is always provable but long-term climatic, ecological and social outcomes should also be considered if we are to truly address climate resilience. Ovink therefore advocates that projects need to become more inventive, adaptable and prepared for the un-expected.  

Current land ownership and legal frameworks challenge the long-term needs of climate resilience, while short term political systems also further delay progress. Building on the Paris Agreement (COP21) the IPPC recognises a need to adapt and recomments:

  • Adoption of system approaches for all aspects of business which factor in ecological, social outcomes on a long-term basis within a changing climate
  • Water policies need to be national and interconnected across development, finance, innovation and all level of land users   
  • Consideration should also be given to society and institutions to grow the capacity of people to innovate, collaborate and adapt to new systems

In 1122 the first climate collaboration began in the Utrecht area with 20 communities working on a local embankment based on the principle of safety and quality to protect cities, agricultural and ecological areas. Over the centuries the Netherlands has developed a national approach for water management and the Delta Approach which protects large tracts of the country from floods and the sea is a leading example of a system approach.

Another leading climate resilience project example in the Netherlands is the Waalsprong, a flood resilience project that was based on an integrated approach, coordinated between agricultural, ecological, infrastructure and urban stakeholders to deliver a regional flood protection from River Waal around Nijmegen. The success of the Waalsprong was proven by the project design, stakeholder engagement throughout the process and widespread support, which ultimately also delivered the flood protection on time and within budget.

The roundtable also highlighted the Netherlands may lead on current adaption for climate resilience however Amsterdam and Rotterdam are listed in top 12 most vulnerable global cities from extreme weather events in 2050 (Amsterdam 9 and Rotterdam 12). The overall picture is therefore that the built environment, businesses and politics need to undertake a step-change to meet the resilience for long-term climate forecasts but also to mitigate climate change.    

The insurance sector, leading banks and pension funds are already using climate data and scenario planning in their approaches. However, the roundtable acknowledged that there is a greater need for an integrated approach across all sectors, nationally and globally to fully realise the required climate step change.

The Paris Agreement (COP 21) provides a global policy foundation for change and the IPPC recognises that the next phase of climate mitigation and resilience will need to focus on an adoption of integrated approaches that support actions and building a narrative that brings society on the same journey.

What’s Next: Urban Land Institute Netherlands recognises the need to continue the dialogue of sharing best practice and is planning a Climate Adaptation Series for 2020.

Find out further information here: ULI Netherlands Climate Adaptation Series 2020 programme details to be shared shortly.


Hurricane Maria – Adam Greenfader, ULI Florida SE and Caribbean

The global challenge of water – Henk Ovink [link to be added shortly]

Further references from the roundtable below.   

ULI Advisor Service Panel Report – Municipality of Tao Baja, Puerto Rico

ULI Climate Risk and Real Estate Investment Decision Making

ULI Urban Resilience Programme

Global Commission on Adaptation

Hurricane Sandy Design Competition  

Too Big. Rebuild by Design: A Transformative Approach to Climate Change

IPPC Climate Change and Land report

IPPC The Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate report

The Geography of future water challenges – by Henk Ovink

Water as a Leverage

COP21 Paris Agreement – A Potential Game Changer for the Global Real Estate Industry