Connecting Delta Cities


Rotterdam: Climate change adaptation

Rotterdam Climate Change Adaptation Strategy

Rotterdam is leading the way with its smart approach to water

The Rotterdam adaptation strategy sets the course that should enable Rotterdam to adapt to the climate changes and shows how residents, businesses and the city can also achieve maximum benefit. 

This strategy provides the framework and the starting point for a future-proof development of Rotterdam and ensures that, in the future, topics such as water safety, accessibility and the robustness of the city are included as the basis for each (spatial) development right from the start of the process. The Rotterdam adaptation strategy is one of the results of the Rotterdam Climate Proof programme.

Rotterdam and the changing climate

What are the effects of global climate change for Rotterdam? What should we do to keep our city safe and habitable, now and in the future? Who do we work with to do this, how can residents of Rotterdam contribute and how do we go about it? The Rotterdam adaptation strategy answers these questions.

Over the past 150 years, the number of residents, the economic value of the port, the city and the region and mutual dependencies in society have all increased sharply. The damage caused by extreme weather conditions or a dyke breach will, therefore, be much greater than it used to be. Ensuring a safe, accessible and attractive city is therefore increasingly more important and urgent. However, this is not so simple, as climate development is full of uncertainties. What exactly will change and when? Dealing with these uncertainties means that we need to anticipate things in a shrewd and flexible manner, adapting the city at an early stage by profiting from urban developments.

Fortunately, we are not starting from scratch. Effective measures have also already been put in place in the past. A robust system of dykes, dams and flood barriers keeps both the city and the port safe. Indeed, Rotterdam is one of the safest delta cities in the world. Rotterdam also has a well-functioning water system, consisting of sewerage, canals, ponds and pumps, which keeps the city dry and healthy.

Objectives for a climate-proof Rotterdam

In Rotterdam, we look towards the future together. Specifically, we want to achieve the following:

The city and its residents are safe from the water
Our aim is for Rotterdam and its inhabitants to continue to be protected against the water from the sea and the rivers, and for investor confidence in this city and the region to be maintained.

The city and its residents suffer as little inconvenience as possible as a result of too little or too much rain
Our aim is for Rotterdam to be capable of withstanding extreme weather conditions, such as heavy rainfall and periods of heat and drought. We are already working on this together with the partners in the Rotterdam Water Plan and we will continue to do so.

The Port of Rotterdam remains safe and accessible
Our efforts are aimed at ensuring that Rotterdam remains a city that is accessible for people, goods and services. The vital urban (public utility) networks are robust and even extreme weather events do not result in unmanageable situations.

The residents of Rotterdam are aware of the consequences of climate change and know what they themselves can do to adapt to it
Residents and businesses in Rotterdam are aware of the consequences of climate change, they know what their own responsibilities are and what possibilities for actions they have themselves. The municipality allows them to take responsibility for themselves.

Climate adaptation contributes to a comfortable, liveable and attractive city.
Our aim is to ensure that Rotterdam remains a city with a pleasant living environment, where the impact of climate change on the health and welfare of its residents is kept to a minimum. The measures that guarantee this contribute directly to an attractive and liveable city.

Climate adaptation strengthens the Rotterdam economy and its image
Rotterdam is keen to benefit economically from making the city climate proof. Climate adaptation is generating renewed economic momentum in the city and is strengthening the international image of Rotterdam as a progressive delta city. In doing this, Rotterdam is displaying leadership towards other cities.

The core of the Rotterdam adaptation strategy

1. Robust system: maintain and strengthen

For a climate-resilient city, we can continue to rely on our system of flood barriers and dykes, canals and lakes, polder outlets, sewers and pumping stations. In the future, we will also continue to maintain and improve this essential infrastructure; in order to do this, we use the accumulated knowledge about the vulnerable parts of the city to optimise this commitment. Preventing the loss of vital public utilities and facilities in the area outside the dykes, in the city and the port, is of particular concern. This is the robust basis for a climate-proof Rotterdam.

In concrete terms, this means:

  • Maintaining and optimising the Maeslantkering [storm surge barrier] as effective protection against the effects of a rise in sea level in consultation with the administrator in charge.
  • Linking the strengthening of the flood defences to the urban specifications at the relevant locations. Dyke reinforcements are seamlessly incorporated into the city and are multifunctional, serving, for example, as recreational trails, natural embankments, or are combined with area development.
  • Working with the other responsible parties to maintain and optimise the current urban water system. We continue to utilise the quality of the existing water infrastructure.

2. Adaptation: use of urban space

But we need to do more. The existing system will reach its limits if the water levels in the river rise, if periods of heavy precipitation intensify or if periods of drought and high temperatures continue for longer. We are already seeing this in some parts of the city. That’s why we need to take additional adaptive measures. Adaptation means that we look for solutions throughout the entire urban area that will relieve the system and create resilience. The 'sponge function' of the city is restored with measures which keep rainwater where it falls, store it and drain it away slowly. These include water squares which relieve the sewage system, infiltration zones along infrastructure and the integration of trees and greenery in outdoor areas (both public and private), which benefits the city environment. By frequently applying these small-scale measures to the 'capillaries of the city', we are able to reduce Rotterdam’s vulnerability.

In this adaptive approach, we are opting to:

  • Build and furnish adaptivelyequipping in the outer dyke areas, to seek clever combinations of protection (dykes), spatial planning (e.g. elevating some sections, floating buildings) and damage control (such as evacuation routes, water-resistant design of homes and external spaces, etc.). This is the so-called multi-layered approach
  • Harness the outdoor space and buildings for water storage and 'smart' water drainage, linked to the urban task at the specific locations; this creates more flexibility in the potential solutions and provides the opportunity to add quality to the environment. This could include, for example, an underground water storage facility linked to car parks or blue-green networks in the city.
  • Actively encourage heat resistance as part of the design, renovation and maintenance of buildings, outdoor spaces and the road and public utility infrastructure. This could be achieved by, for example, incorporating trees and greenery and creating shade and adequate insulation in homes and offices.

3. Working together and linking in with other projects in the city

Maintaining the current robust system, such as dykes, canals and drains will also be the duty and responsibility of government bodies in the future. Alongside the municipality, water boards and the national government also play an important role. An example is the national Delta Programme which, at a national level, determines the necessary choices for water safety and the supply of fresh water. But climate adaptation in the city requires more than this. The maintenance of many vital public utilities is in the hands of our urban partners. It is therefore essential that energy, the supply of (drinking) water and ICT networks do not break down for long periods of time and it is imperative that these remain robust in extreme weather conditions. Most of the buildings and land are private property. Implementing adaptation measures in both the public and private urban spaces therefore also requires cooperation with other parties.

In addition to governments, residents, businesses, housing associations, developers, knowledge institutions and interest groups are also contributing to Rotterdam’s climate resilience. As well as developing the network, the municipality has a predominantly supporting and encouraging role. An example of this is the "Tile out, Green in' initiative, which encourages the residents of Rotterdam to make their gardens greener. Collaborating at all levels with the parties working in Rotterdam is necessary if we are to achieve our goal of a climate-proof city.

There is plenty of time to adapt to the changing climate. This means that it is possible to link the adaptive measures to other spatial development projects in the city and to intelligently combine them with existing management and maintenance programmes. This is known as ’moving to the rhythm of the city’. A climate-proof approach to projects will be the subject of discussions between the municipality and the initiators. A shared ambition for a climate-proof urban development is essential here. For the municipality, this means, at the very least:

  • Actively gathering information and providing residents and businesses with actions to take to protect against river water, excessive and insufficient rainfall and periods with extremely high temperatures.
  • Working towards a shared responsibility of public and private land owners for the collection of excess rainfall.

4. Added value for the environment, society, economy and ecology

In this way, climate adaptation offers ample opportunities to strengthen the economy of the city and the port, to improve the quality of life in neighbourhoods and districts, to increase biodiversity in the city and to foster committed and active participation by Rotterdam residents in society . Working together for a climate-proof city pays off!

Introducing more trees and plants into the city, for example, makes it less vulnerable to extreme rainfall, drought and heat stress. At the same time, this 'green adaptation' will make the living environment more attractive, become the motor for other investments and inspire the residents of Rotterdam to play an active role. Companies are already benefitting from the increased focus on climate adaptation and sustainable urban development, as well as the international profile Rotterdam enjoys in this field. At present, there are approximately 3600 jobs in the region which are directly linked to climate adaptation. The many businesses in the maritime, engineering and delta technology sectors in the Rotterdam region all have excellent growth prosepects. These examples show that climate adaptation contributes to the city’s physical, economic and social ambitions. The municipality, in any case, substantiates this by:

  • Actively offering scope for pilot projects and innovations within climate adaptation measures (Rotterdam as a testing ground and portfolio for the business community)
  • Connecting Delta Cities as a strong international network of cities to be used as the connection with the international market
  • Launching the further greening of the city as a 'no regrets measure' to create an attractive city environment.

Let's get started!

Climate adaptation requires tailor-made solutions

Rotterdam continues to work towards a climate-proof city. A tailor-made solution which is created for a particular area is the starting point in this respect. In the areas of Rotterdam outside the dykes, which are home to 40,000 residents, the multi-layered safety principle is paramount. As well as robust measures to avoid flooding, such as raising the levels of land, flood-proofing measures for buildings and outside areas, or disaster management, could also be opted for in order to reduce risks. This could be done, for example, by building on stilts or creating floating buildings ('flood proof' building) or by building embankments for dykes. Changing the way in which we construct and equip our buildings creates a broader range of measures. Permanent flood protection is the goal.

To protect Rotterdam’s inner-dyke areas, flood prevention is paramount. Again, a tailor-made approach is necessary to be able to integrate spatial planning into the dyke maintenance plans.

When relieving the urban water system and making the city more resilient in order to collect too much or, in fact, too little rainfall, ensuring that this is correctly integrated into other plans by the city council or other parties is vital. Water storage that uses public spaces and provides additional features, such as water squares, is one example of this.

Implementation Approach

The strategy sets the direction and provides the framework; the implementation approach is the next step in the adaptation process. With this, Rotterdam indicates where its priorities lie, which connections are being made to plans and projects by urban partners and how soon actions will be implemented. Central to the 'how' of the implementation are: movement in parallel with planned projects, a regional approach by dovetailing with the area plans, creating added value and a joint approach. The choice and the costs of measures are an integral part of the decision-making in each project. The municipality has opted here for a facilitating and stimulating role; in the cases where it has formal duties, it will certainly also meet its own responsibility by taking action. And of course, Rotterdam will remain at the forefront of realising exemplary projects as an innovative and climate-proof delta city.

In this way, Rotterdam is working to become a future-proof city that provides safety and is attractive to its residents, visitors and businesses, both now and in the future. It is a safe, habitable city in the Dutch delta and it is a pleasure for people to work and live there.

More information

Download the Rotterdam Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (pdf).


Rotterdam Climate Proof programme results

Rotterdam Climate Proof started out at the end of 2008 and is currently in full swing as part of the Rotterdam Climate Initiative. In the meantime, the following results have been achieved:


  • Publication Rotterdam Adaptation Strategy (2013)
  • Rotterdam Climate Societal Cost Benefit Analysis (SCBA) and Rotterdam Climate game completed (2013)
  • Publication Delta City Rotterdam (2014)
  • Publication 'Deltas in Times of Climate Change' (2010)
  • Publication 'Research Summaries Rotterdam's Climate Adaptation' (2010)
  • International design contest 'Delta City of the Future' in Rotterdam (2010)
  • International conference 'Deltas in Times of Climate Change II' from 24 - 26 September 2014 in Rotterdam
  • In 2010 over 1200 international politicians, scientists, policy makers, practitioners and entrepreneurs visited the international conference 'Deltas in Times of Climate Change I' in Rotterdam
  • Book I 'Connecting Delta Cities' (2009)
  • Book II 'Climate Adaptation and Flood Risk in Coastal Cities' (2010)
  • Book III 'Resilient Cities and Climate Adaptation Strategies' (2014)


  • Rotterdam has over 185.000 m2 of Green Roofs (2014)
  • Start project Zomerhofkwartier 100% climate proof
  • Eendragtspolder rowing course opened (2013). This rowing course functions as a water storage facility (4 million m3), recreation area and (top) sports facility all at once
  • Start of Nassauhaven floating house developments (2014)
  • Underground water storage at Kruisplein car park of 2300 m3 (2013)
  • Multifunctional water square Benthemplein, international showcase (2013)
  • Levee at Vierhaven area expanded to super levee including city park (2013)
  • Start of climate proof city pilots for Feijenoord and Heijplaat districts (2012)
  • Water square at Bellamyplein completed (2012)
  • Participation in a regional knowledge valorisation programme for delta technology (2012)
  • Underground water storage under Museumpark car park in operation (10,000 m3) (2011)
  • Water square Kleinpolderplein (2011)
  • List of possible locations for floating communities in Rotterdam completed (2011)
  • Floating pavilion in Rotterdam Rijnhaven completed (2010)
  • Green wall (5000 m2) at Westblaak car park (2010)
  • 5000 m3 of additional water storage space in Tjalklaan (2010)
  • Design and agreement for Blue Corridor, construction started
  • Participation in regional delta programme Rijnmond Drechtsteden under the chairmanship of the mayor of Rotterdam, Mr Ahmed Aboutaleb.

Exposure and spin-off

  • New York selects designs from Rotterdam for prestigious water projects (2014)
  • Cooperation with the City of Rotterdam has allowed Ho Chi Minh City to develop its own climate adaptation strategy (2013)
  • Expansion of Connecting Delta Cities: New Orleans (2010), Ho Chi Minh City (2011), Melbourne (2011), Copenhagen (2013), Venice (2014), Changwon (2014) and Singapore (2014)
  • Sustainable Rotterdam App (2014)
  • Delta City Rotterdam App (2013)
  • New Orleans: integrated water management plan with help of Rotterdam experts (2012)
  • Rotterdam selected as Peer City by the European Commission (2012) in the EU Cities Adapt project
  • Netherlands Water Centre in the floating pavilion (2012)
  • The Ecorys study shows that making Rotterdam climate proof will result in an investment of 4 to 5 billion euros (2010)
  • Over 825,000 people plus dozens of delegations visited the pavilion 'Rotterdam Water City' at the World Expo Shanghai 2010
  • Start of curriculum and collaboration with Watermanagement at Hogeschool Rotterdam (2009)
  • Connecting Delta Cities network set up within C40 (2008)
  • Over one hundred presentations all over the world
  • More than a hundred international delegations visited Rotterdam
  • Hundreds of (international) publications about Rotterdam Climate Proof.
Magazine "Resilient Cities and Climate Adaptation Strategies" CDC book volume 3 Available now. Download free of charge.