Rising sea levels could put Netherlands under 48 cm of water: report

A digital manipulation of a flooded city in the Netherlands
A digital manipulation of a flooded city in the NetherlandsPhoto: Brasilnut/DepositPhotos

If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, the sea level will rise by 84 centimeters by the year 2,100, according to findings that the UN climate panel IPCC published on Wednesday. As the Delta Works only protects against a sea level rise of 40 centimeters, that will leave the Netherlands 48 centimeters under water, researcher Marjolijn Haasnoot from Deltares said to NRC.

The rising sea levels are due to global warming and melting icecaps. The IPCC estimation of a sea level that is 84 centimeters higher by the end of the century, is 10 centimeters higher than was thought in 2013. According to the report, which is based on the research of hundreds of scientists, the annual rise in sea level has now risen to 3.6 millimeters.

If things continue at this rate, the sea level will be 4 meters higher by 2300. The only way to keep the rise below 1 meter is if greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced and global warming is limited to 2 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial era - the same goal set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. 

"It is remarkable that the IPCC, which always comes with conservative expectations, now also clearly states that it can be much worse", Haasnoot said to NRC. "An increase of 2 meters in 2100 is not at all unlikely. This means that we have relatively little time for major necessary adjustments. Larger than the Delta Works that we have been building for 30 years. They increased the protection of the Netherlands by 40 centimeters."

The IPCC also stressed that countries with a so-called 'low risk tolerance', like the Netherlands, would to well to take the worst case scenario into account. "The uncertainty about the future sea level rise must not cause you to do nothing", panel said. "Precisely because the increase can go very quickly, it is wise to take timely adaptive measures. That means that you have to think in time about, for example, extra space for wider dikes or much more sand replenishment for the coast to be able to guarantee safety and fresh water supplies."