How Rotterdam Is Addressing Sea-level Rise

The World Economic Forum reports on how a growing number of cities are stepping up to the challenge of sea-level rise. 

Alongside mitigating their carbon footprints through reducing emissions, there are basically three ways that states and cities are taking action:

  • Fielding hard engineering projects like sea walls to keep water out 
  • Adopting environmental approaches involving, for example, land recovery to help cities cope with floodwater inundation
  • Taking people-oriented measures including urban design.


Holland, with over a quarter of its land below sea-level, is a good example of a country that is combining all three approaches to manage persistent sea level rises. And Rotterdam is one of the safest delta cities in the world precisely because it has learned to live with water. 


The national government has already decentralized many aspects of water management: flood protection is the responsibility of regional water management boards. 

Public authorities have also bolstered hard defences including a 3,700km network of dikes, dams, seawalls and the famous Maesland Barrier built to protect Rotterdam.


A key ingredient of Rotterdam’s success is attitude. The current mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, claims his city’s residents “do not view climate change as a threat, but rather as an opportunity to make the city more resilient, more attractive and economically stronger”. In the mayor’s view, climate adaptation is a window of opportunity to upgrade infrastructure, increase biodiversity and more meaningfully engage citizens in city life. 

A few years ago, the city launched a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy to make Rotterdam “climate proof” by 2025. Across the Netherlands, cities like Rotterdam are converting ponds, garages, parks and plazas into part-time reservoirs. They’re also revitalizing neighborhoods and improving equity to build social resilience to future water threats.


External Sources

World Economic Forum: The world’s coastal cities are going under. Here’s how some are fighting back