Participants at the water event in Sacramento included Consul General Gerbert Kunst, Dutch water ambassador Henk Ovink, Secretary Wade Crowfoot for Natural Resources, and Assembly Members Irwin and Wood and State Senator Wiener.

By Kimberly Beijersbergen and Esther Diebels
Consulate General of the Netherlands in San Francisco

A third of the Netherlands is below sea level while California is known for its golden hills and mountains. The Netherlands has been fighting water for centuries while California just endured a five-year drought.

The climates and topography of the Netherlands and California do not share many similarities —  until you take a better look.

They are both located on the sea and have densely populated coastal areas with high economic importance. That means they both are vulnerable to sea-level rise that will have a high impact on the population.

With the changing climate, drought has become more apparent, also in the Netherlands, as well as more extreme weather patterns. This in turn could lead to flood risk at the coast, as well as in-land. 

Regarding resiliency, the Netherlands and California are more similar than you might think.

Resiliency, or the ability to adapt to and absorb the impacts of climate change, is a key word for the future of both areas. The Netherlands can learn from California’s experience with droughts and California can learn from the Netherlands’ experience with water.

This week, the Holland Resiliency Week California brings together Dutch and American experts to discuss the transformation toward sustainable and resilient cities.

“The Netherlands and California share a strong commitment in addressing global climate change, and work closely together in the field of sustainable and smart mobility, resiliency and circular economy,” said Consul General Gerbert Kunst. “In ,2017 we hosted the conference Climate is Big Business with Governor Brown, and last year we hosted several side events during the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. With events in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Francisco, the goal is to exchange knowledge and experiences, to take the next steps.”

Los Angeles

Heading toward the Olympic Games in 2028, Los Angeles is determined to renew the city’s infrastructure in a sustainable way. It aims to complete 28 projects, such as repairing and replacing aging infrastructure, and new projects regarding green infrastructure, including the LA bike path and a metro line from the airport to the city center.

The seminar “Sustainable Cities, the Dutch Approach” brought together Dutch experts and Los Angeles stakeholders in resiliency and smart mobility to exchange challenges, solutions, and expertise.

Consul General Kunst sees many opportunities for the Netherlands and California to work together. “The Los Angeles region has the ambition to transform its transportation and infrastructure system in a sustainable and resilient manner,” he said. “This ambitious agenda provides opportunities for more collaboration between LA and the Netherlands, focusing on infrastructure and mobility projects, delta technology, water tech and circular economy. I’m happy we have introduced Dutch companies and their Dutch solutions to these global challenges in sustainable urban planning in our seminar in Santa Monica today, to support Los Angeles transform its transportation system. And with that transform this region in a sustainable way for decades ahead.”

LA also aims to make the 2028 Olympics the first circular Olympics. And as the Netherlands is working toward becoming a circular economy by 2050, many possibilities to work together on a circular future lie in wait.


Henk Ovink

How can we address the impacts of climate change, such as sea-level rise or droughts, in California?

Dutch water ambassador Henk Ovink introduces the Dutch thoughts on this during a water event in Sacramento, the state capital. He discusses water resilience with state senators and assembly members, and try to come to next steps for exchanging expertise.

Two years ago, the Dutch invited a group of California legislators and experts on a visit to the Netherlands to visit water management projects, and another visit is planned soon. Last year at the Global Climate Action Summit, the report “Too Little + Too Much” was presented to California legislators, to find solutions for Bay Area sea-level rise. 

San Francisco

As a next step in Bay Area resiliency, the NL Resiliency Collective comes together to present the Dutch view on resiliency. During “From Proposition to Action: Dutch perspectives on Bay Area Resiliency” Dutch and American Experts discussed ways for the Bay Area to prepare for sea level rise and the effects of climate change.

The event is a follow up of at the report “Too Little + Too Much,” presented during the Global Climate Action summit, an effort by Dutch experts to help the Bay Area find fitting solutions. 

“What the Bay Area is missing is an overarching approach, one that spans from Napa Valley to San Jose,” said Ovink. “‘Too Little + Too Much’ was the first step in presenting an overarching approach. Bringing these people together again is about the next phase. How can the Bay Area transform to a resilient area that’s not only climate-proof  but also a great place to live in.”

The report was a spin-off of the Resilient By Design Bay Area Challenge, where 10 teams of international experts developed ideas for existing problems in the Bay Area. Many Dutch companies and experts were mong those teams.

Two recommendations out of “Too Little + Too Much,” governance and community principles, were picked to be discussed by the participants of the workshops. It brought the main question in the Bay Area to the table: How do we get climate change adaptation awareness and willingness to cooperate?

The goal of these activities is ultimately to transfer knowledge between the Netherlands and California on resiliency. Water is one aspect, and mobility and governance are highlighted as well as we try to work toward a sustainable future.  

In the Netherlands, this topic is crucial to our existence. As the saying goes, God created Earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands. Half of the country is reclaimed from the sea. The Netherlands has more than 3,000 polders. This has resulted in a country where one-third is below sea level as is 70% of the population. The lowest point of the Netherlands is 22 feet under sea level.

With climate change and sea-level rise, you might think that this is the worst place to live. But because of the measures the Netherlands has taken, it might be the safest place to live. Flood control and water management – and it’s long-term financing – have become a top priority. The Dutch Delta works, more than 10,000 miles of dykes, is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest flood defense project.

“Resiliency is not just about building infrastructure; it is more importantly about bringing people together and getting the right policies in place and with that putting water high on the political agenda,” said Ovink. “I’m looking forward to continue working with Bay Area partners in our efforts to combat climate change and build a better future for all, in California and the Netherlands.”