Keynote speech by Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, at the Environment Agency’s Flood & Coast Conference

“During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s even more important that we combine forces and learn from each other. We need to build back better and create a more resilient future!”

Speech by Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen at the Environment Agengy’s Flood & Coast Conference, 9 December 2020.

Thank you for the invitation, Emma.

It’s great to be here. Especially now there’s so much at stake. Not only because extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and more severe. But also because − during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic − it’s even more important that we combine forces and learn from each other. We need to build back better and create a more resilient future!

By posing the question ‘Where are the most acute challenges being faced across the world?’, this session has hit the nail on the head. How are these nations, places and communities adapting? And what can we learn from their experiences?

The Global Climate Risk Index provides some answers. In 2018, the Index showed that Japan, the Philippines and Germany were hit hardest by extreme weather events. Relative to the years before, that is.

Also, we see a growing number of countries where a single, devastating hurricane can cause massive damage that will take years to rebuild. Puerto Rico is one example. St Maarten is another; a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Caribbean that was hit hard by hurricane Irma in 2017.

In a growing number of countries such as Haiti, the Philippines and Pakistan, extreme weather events are recurring at such short intervals that they can barely recover.

The truth is that the effects of climate change are being felt throughout the world. And we will all have to adapt.
For the Netherlands, adapting to sea level rise is a major challenge. One of our iconic coastal protection experiments is the Sand Engine. A nature-based solution to move sand along the Dutch coast. I’m proud that the same sandscaping principle is now being applied in the UK at Bacton, north of Norwich.

That’s what our cooperation is all about! Focusing on solutions, monitoring how they behave, exchanging ideas on their performance, sharing results and learning from each other.

Other examples are the joint peer reviews our organisations carry out on our Storm Surge Barriers – the Thames Barrier, the Maeslant Barrier etc. The Dutch Rijkswaterstaat learns a lot from the systematic way in which you have organized your asset management.

Also, we learn from the UK on flood incident management. Both on ‘live flood events’, as well as our joint testing and training exercises. The Environment Agency, Rijkswaterstaat and the US Army Corps of Engineers are all working together to publish an International Handbook on Building with Nature. We are learning and sharing a lot of information!

As you may know, the Netherlands will soon be hosting the first ever global summit of world leaders focused entirely on climate change adaptation. This Climate Adaptation Summit will be held on the 25th of January 2021. A virtual conference, of course, streamed worldwide over 24 hours with anchoring events from capitals around the world.

During the Summit we will talk in more detail about nature-based solutions and other innovative ways to adapt.
One of the highlights of the conference will be the Global Commission on Adaptation’s Water Action Track. Our aim is to create an extensive hub for knowledge and practice on water and adaptation. A place where knowledge comes together from all countries and organisations. A place where we will connect the dots and bring that knowledge to the political stage.

I invite you all to join and contribute to this hub. To share, to connect, to develop. And, of course, I hope you can join us with your best contributions at the Climate Adaptation Summit on the 25th of January! Let’s ensure that our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is a sustainable one for both people and planet.

Thank you.