Report: Dutch Can Expect 14-Inch Ocean Rise by 2050

The Dutch can expect wetter winters and a threatening rise in sea levels of up to 14 inches by 2050, said a report Tuesday by the National Weather Service.

While many countries discuss global warming and greenhouse gas emissions as theories, the Dutch see climate change as a matter of survival demanding concrete action.

"Sixty percent of our country lies beneath sea level, so the effect of a rise in the level of the oceans is very noticeable," said Melanie Schultz van Haegen, the secretary of transport and water, after receiving the report from the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute known by its Dutch acronym KNMI.

But she said there was "no acute danger" to the country's sea defenses, which are among the best in the world.

The Dutch earmark more than $1.2 billion annually — around 1 percent of the national budget — to maintain and improve the dikes, dunes, pumps, sluices and windmills that work constantly to keep the country dry.

Those defenses must take into account the consequences of global warming, but Schultz van Haegen said it could be done within existing spending plans.

KNMI put forward a range of scenarios it thought were strong enough to base policy on, using measurements and modeling by its own scientists as well as the most recent international studies.

It predicted an increase in average temperature in the Netherlands of at 1.8 degrees to 3.6 degrees by 2050, compared with 1990, and a rise in sea level by 6 inches to 14 inches.

"If you plan a children's birthday party in the Netherlands in July, you know it can be great weather, but you can also have a cloudburst. If you're prudent, you're prepared for both scenarios," said KNMI climate expert Gerbrand Komen, presenting the findings. "It can also snow in July, but you don't really need to plan for it," he said.

The report says rainfall will likely increase by 4-14 percent in the winter, and intense cloudbursts will become more common in the summer. But scientists cannot predict whether overall summer rain will decrease or increase, he said.

The history of the Netherlands, whose very name means "the low-lying countries," has been shaped by its struggle to cope with excess water, beginning before Roman times. The country's economic heart lies in the delta where the Rhine and Maas rivers meet the North Sea.

Since a 1953 flood that killed 1,800 people, sea defenses have been engineered to withstand any storm but the biggest predicted once every 10,000 years. River dikes are supposed to hold against a sustained rainfall statistically likely every 250 years.

By comparison, New Orleans' levies were designed against storms up to those likely to occur once in 100 years.

But even with global warming, the North Sea is not expected to generate storms the size or intensity of Hurricane Katrina.

Schultz van Haegen said she expected the European Union to agree on flood cooperation guidelines in July.

"Problems can't be pushed off on lower-lying countries, but each country must undertake a package of measures to take care of rain that falls in its borders," she said.

In April, the Dutch government said it expected to meet its Kyoto Protocol targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Under the treaty, the Netherlands must cut greenhouse gas output 6 percent by 2012, from 1990 levels.