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Keywords:

  • Adaptation;
  • climate change;
  • flood risks;
  • institutions;
  • Lower Rhine

Climate change may well lead to an increased risk of river floods in the Netherlands. However, the impacts of changes in water management on river floods are larger, either enhancing or reducing flood risks. Therefore, the abilities of water-management authorities to learn that climate and river flows are changing, and to recognize and act upon the implications, are of crucial importance. At the same time, water-management authorities respond to other trends, such as the democratization of decision making, which alter their ability to react to climate change. These complex interactions are illustrated with changes in river flood risk management for the Rhine and the Meuse in the Netherlands over the last 50 years. A scenario study is used to seek insight into the question of whether current water-management institutions and their likely successors are capable of dealing with plausible future flood risks. The scenarios show that new and major infrastructure is needed to keep flood risks at their current level. Such a structural solution to future flood risks is feasible, but requires considerable political will and institutional reform, both for planning and implementation. It is unlikely that reform will be fast enough or the will strong enough.