Changes to climate and society in Amsterdam

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Insights from BlueHealth's scenario workshop

How does Amsterdam anticipate the increase of flooding and individualization will impact the city by 2040? And how can the city optimize their planning of blue spaces?

Insights from BlueHealth’s scenario workshop

The impacts of climate change could affect the livelihoods of people living in Amsterdam.

Our scenarios workshop back in 2017 highlighted some of the risks, but also some opportunities to maximise the health benefits of blue space. Here’s a roundup of what we discovered in our cross-sector participatory workshop.

Heavy rainfall increases the risk of sewage overflow, with possible risks to public health from untreated sewage water and urban surface water potentially containing pathogenic microorganisms, chemicals and pharmaceutical residues. This increases risks of infectious diseases and could impact mental health with increasing worries about safety.

Increasing temperatures, combined with the urban heat island effect that’s partly caused by limited urban areas cooling during the night, may cause heat stress and result in more cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. These risks could be more likely for the elderly, young children and chronically ill. The demand for places near the water as a place for cooling down will increase.

With income inequalities expected to widen further, social inequalities could also increase. The gentrification of some neighbourhoods in Amsterdam could mean that blue spaces become less accessible for people living on lower and middle incomes. This, combined increasing individualization, could result in more social exclusion and potentially have negative health consequences.

While these risks could bring about challenges that need to be tackled, opportunities also exist. Amsterdam benefits from attractive and good quality blue spaces, with facilities that promote healthy lifestyle activities and social activities for everyone in society. These spaces are widely available and potential environmental and health risks from functional water use (like shipping) are currently managed.

To protect Amsterdam’s blue spaces and ensure they are safe for people to use, swimming facilities should include environmental and spatial plans and include targeted strategies to improve water quality and help reduce the urban heat island effect.

Since local authorities are considered to be more suited to address local needs and wishes, a shift can be identified towards a more decentralized government with more power to local authorities. This gives Amsterdam the opportunity to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change in a pro-active way, and the possibility to combine new initiatives with flood resilient measures.

An integrated multisectoral governance approach tackling the possible challenges resulting from climate change is needed to also maximise any benefits. But there could be unintended effects and trade-offs.

Investments in good quality canals and surface waters can enhance Amsterdam’s appearance and make it more desirable. But attracting more people to the city could lead to further gentrification and widen social gaps. Although these are not mutually exclusive, choices need to be made as to what should be prioritized in order to have a climate-resilient and healthy city for all.

Written by Fabio Martins Gueth

Steigereiland, Amsterdam, Netherlands_BlueHealth_Unsplash

Photo of blue space in Steigereiland, Amsterdam (Unsplash).