Natuurlijk Kapitaal Nederland | natuur & economie verbinden

Evaluation of Natural Climate Buffers

Hondsbossche Zeewering met zandsuppletieNature can play a part in how areas adapt to the consequences of climate change through services such as water collection and storage. There are good prospects for nature-based solutions of this kind when a conventional approach like dike strengthening, is either not possible or too costly.

Research issue

Natural Climate Buffers are projects which use the services of nature to adapt an area to the changing climate. This evaluation carried out by PBL revealed the factors that can help or hinder the implementation of innovative, nature-based projects. It also looked at ecosystem services that provide climate buffers, as well as possible mechanisms for involving the suppliers or consumers of such services in these projects.


Ten climate buffers were looked at for the study.

Example: Hunzedal-Torenveen

Twenty years ago or so the the Hunze river basin was bare and thinly populated. The agricultural land produced little. Het Drents Landschap (nature conservation society) wanted the agricultural land to be converted into a large-scale area of nature. The Hunze river basin was suitable for this because it covers a large area and the poor productivity meant the land price was low.

The Waterleidingmaatschappij Drenthe (Drenthe water supply company) became involved as an investor in order to safeguard potable water extraction in the long term. The Hunze river was again permitted to meander through the landscape and the land was converted from agriculture to nature. Waterschap Hunze and Aa’s (regional water management board) became a partner in the project because of the opportunities for water storage. It was a challenge for Het Drents Landschap conservation society to persuade the water management institutions that taking part in the project would be in their own interests. Because the water supply company had a sound long term plan, it was able to balance the short term costs against the long term benefits.

The interventions have been successful: the area now offers a wide range of ecosystem services in the form of drinking water supply, water storage and recreation. By creating nature in the area, the freshwater sources could be protected thereby making the water supply more sustainable. The water storage capacity has also been increased. This has reduced the amount of drainage flooding downstream during heavy precipitation. The success of the project was due to the favourable conditions in the area, the presence of an area manager with patience (Het Drents Landschap) and an economic stakeholder (Waterleidingmaatschappij Drenthe).


  • The use of a nature-based approach to climate adaptation is not yet widely accepted
    To speed up acceptance of nature in climate adaptation, besides pilot projects, it is also necessary to have the courage to experiment. The rules and the stakeholders will determine whether or not a solution is valid. The greater the interests, the less room there is to experiment. This is the classic innovation dilemma: examples are desperately needed to demonstrate the effect of an innovation, but there is little room to provide them.
  • A nature-based approach to climate change has most chance of success when a convention approach like dike strengthening is not possible or too costly, or where public resistance is too great
    In situations where the flood protection challenge is urgent, innovative solutions like climate buffers are less likely to be chosen: tried and tested solutions are then preferred. If a conventional solution is not feasible, spatially or economically, there will be more room for an innovative approach.
  • In areas where there are no overriding economic or historic interests, there will be opportunities to include nature and water goals in redevelopment
    When the water management task in an area is less pressing there will be more room for innovative solutions. But because such projects are not urgent, the money or willingness to set them up is often lacking. This changes once the economic activities in an area become loss-making or threaten to become so and a nature-based solution offers economic opportunities. Such an approach will also have a good chance of success if the ecosystem services to be provided by the area are safeguarded for the future.
  • Commitment, faith and central management are the critical success factors in creating a natural climate buffer
    Nature-based solutions often require more patience and perseverance than a traditional approach. It is vital that a key ‘green’ driver is present who is interested not only in combining goals but who also has an understanding of the sensitivities in a particular planning area. The process of cooperation between parties who do not necessarily know each other very well, requires particular attention. With faith and central management problems will be addressed more quickly, planning processes speed up and better agreements can be made.
  • The legislation on flood defences and nature conservation can help or hinder integrated development
    It seems to be difficult to incorporate nature-based solutions in existing flood defence programmes. Integration or linking with other area tasks is generally not a requirement for the construction of flood defences. The legislation on nature can have the effect of either restricting or galvanizing when it comes to finding nature-based solutions. This was the case with the strengthening of the Markermeer dikes where the protection status of natural areas in the vicinity placed clear limitations on the type of coastal defences that could be used.

Study conducted by

Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL)

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