New Policy Brief on Adaptive Delta Governance

In deltas, humans interact constantly and intensively in rapidly growing numbers with their ecological environment against a backdrop of increasing climate change impacts. How do governance systems, as a nexus of science, policy and society, cope with uncertainties and complexity in the socio-ecological system in different deltas? Based on an analysis of the governance challenges in three deltas, the recently published policy brief No.15provides recommendations for improving delta governance.

Deltas are home to more than 80 percent of the world’s population. They have come under increasing pressure from population growth, economic development, and climate change. As a consequence, basic needs such as food, water, health, and shelter are in danger. Deltas thus pose important challenges for the post-2015 development agenda, especially in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Delta governance refers to the decision process through which individuals and institutions (public and private) interact (in formal and informal ways) to manage their affairs and make decisions to live safely and sustainable in deltas, coastal zones, and river basins. It is an essential but complex process for dealing with dynamic deltas. Ecological or technical changes may trigger governance responses. Vice versa, changes in governance structures may alter the sustainability and adaptive capacity of the system.

This policy brief reflects on key lessons learned and the way forward in three deltas: the Rhine-Meuse in the Netherlands, the Mekong in Vietnam, and the Sacramento–San Joaquin River in the United States. For each delta, two questions were asked: what the key governance challenges are and how these challenges are addressed. The desk-based analysis is corroborated with a wealth of information provided by the speakers and participants at the workshop “Learning from Dealing with Dynamic Deltas,” organized by the Netherlands National Commission for UNESCO, The Hague Institute for Global Justice, UNESCO-IHE, and Wageningen University on September 22, 2014, in Rotterdam, as a back-to-back event with the international conference “Deltas in Times of Climate Change.”

The impacts of climate change are visible in all three cases, much like all low-lying areas of the world. At the same time, scientists and other stakeholders disagree over future climate change scenarios and possible mitigation and adaptation strategies. The authors identified a trend towards a more holistic approach in the plans of all three deltas studied and the inclusion of increasing the adaptive capacity of the socio-ecological system of the deltas. Increasing the capacity of systems to adapt is key to responding to climatic changes: both natural and social systems with high adaptive capacities can retain their integrity under a broader range of conditions better than systems with low adaptive capacities.

The policy brief provides three broad sets of recommendations for improving delta governance targeted at practitioners, policymakers, and researchers working on climate change, environmental policy, politics, and governance. The recommendations focus on dealing with the uncertainties of the impacts of climate change, on closing the innovation gap between science, policy and society, and on facilitating effective stakeholder participation, learning and integration.

To access the policy brief in full please click here.

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