Municipal politicians are asking for a national plan of action on climate adaption, simple rules and improved options for funding.
All arms were raised when Ann Marker, chairwoman, asked the assembly: Should we have a national plan of action for climate adaption in Demark – yes or no? Not one voted against it. The assembly consisted of mayors and other municipal politicians from the Capital Region and Region Zealand as well as council members from the municipally owned supply companies. They met, quite fittingly, at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde which came dangerously close to suffering severe damages during the storm Bodil in 2013.
Messages for the Danish Parliament and the Regional Council
Since the fall of 2016, the 29 municipalities in the Capital Region have had the opportunity to contribute to painting an overall picture of the local political challenges of climate adaptions in the region. As a part of the Capital Region’s initiative “Water Across – a climate ready region”, The Danish Board of Technology Foundation visited the political committees responsible for the climate adaption in 15 of the municipalities. The aim was to hear how local politicians experience the challenges and solutions to climate adaption, including the interaction with supply companies, other municipalities, the region and the government. The results have been summarized and presented to the Regional Council and the relevant committees of the Danish Parliament.
During the politicians’ seminar in Roskilde on the 27th of April, the hall was packed with participants from 22 municipalities and 7 supply companies. Jarl Krausing from the think tank CONCITO explained the cost of climatic changes and the benefits of preventing them. Søren Hilbert from the law firm Lundgrens explained about the different options for funding the climate adaptions. In the second part of this seminar, the participants debated the political experiences and messages amongst themselves and with a panel made up of two members of the Danish Parliament, Trine Torp (SF) and Hans Christian Schmidt (V), the president of the Capital Region’s Environment and Traffic Committee, Jens Mandrup (SF), the mayor of Hvidovre municipality Helle Moesgaard Adelborg (S) and mayor of Halsnæs, Steen Hasselriis (V).
The government must prioritize finding solutions
The seminar clearly showed that the government, according to local politicians, fails to live up to their part of the responsibility for climate adaptions. The participants called for a national plan of action for safeguarding against torrential rain storms, storm surges and coastal erosion. Rather than receiving more technical reviews or risk assessments, they miss governmental engagement in prioritizing the tasks and their solutions, including a common ground for funding their completion.
The majority of municipal politicians consider climate adaption an urgent task. They are aware that the costs of postponing the projects might easily surpass the cost of actually completing them. In spite of this, it can be rather difficult to find the money as these projects are in competition with any here and now needs of the core welfare areas. This is especially true of municipalities that have yet to suffer the damages caused by storm surges, torrential rain storms or coastal erosion. On top of this, many consider the legislation complicated and outdated and they feel the projects are likely to get stuck in long and complicated review processes.
Issues of climate change often manifest itself most perceptibly along coastlines and the surrounding areas which are usually divided and belonging to different municipalities. They might have different interests and that is why there is a strong need for governmental and regional support in order to render the cross-municipal collaboration on solutions more efficient.
The most important tasks
At the seminar, the participants were divided into groups where they discussed what their most important political messages were. The call for a national plan of action made it to an indisputable first place, followed by collaboration across municipal borders and greater flexibility in the co-financing of projects and collecting payment from citizens by the supply companies.
The national plan of action should prioritize the tasks and assign a toolbox of methods and means. It should select which areas that need coastal protection, areas where nature should run its course and the coherent areas where the government can demand cross-municipal collaboration. The Danish Parliament and the government were encouraged to remove all obstacles for funding and clean up the legislation made for a different time with a different knowledge. There were suggestions to increase the demands on new constructions and preventing parceling out building sites on low-lying areas vulnerable to the future increase in downpour.
Start the solutions up
Trine Torp seconded the wish for a national plan of action. “It should not only outline but rather start up the solutions,” she said. Torp suggested a Climate Adaption Council that would council the Danish Parliament, the government and municipalities on how to prioritize the tasks. “We need to lay down the fundamental priorities. If you wish to discuss joint funding then we need a common set of priorities: what is the most important and when is it to be done? We cannot move on the good solutions until there is a national prioritizing,” she said.
Hans Christian Schmidt was pleasantly surprised by the messages and engagement of the assembly. “I raised my own hand when we voted on a national plan of action. I too believe that we need it, and that we need to look into whether or not the options for complaining with a delaying effect should be restricted. We should do it together. We need to come up with a financing plan, get it done. And we need to check that the data we have actually works and which laws that contradict others.” He added, “I have to add that this will be a plan that everyone has to conform to. Otherwise we will run into a brick wall as soon as one municipality says that they have a different municipal model.” He compared the national plan of action to building an express way: “Once we pass a construction law, it’s a go. You cannot make any objections with a delaying effect at that point.”
The hard decisions
”It is nice to hear this from the Danish Parliament,” said the president of the Environment and Traffic Committee of the Capital Region, Jens Mandrup. “The municipalities are very able but it often fails when two municipalities have to agree on something and one has to pay the other. We might as well be honest about that. It is awfully nice and cozy that we have municipal borders based on the old parishes from the 13th century but it is completely irrelevant when it comes to the coastlines and surrounding water areas. Then we need a national plan of action and to figure out some sort of common funding.”
He continued, “I am very excited to see if the government dares to do it when we get to the hard parts. It is easy enough to make plans and come up with great solutions but what about telling Mr. Jørgensen: “We did the math and the effort is not worth the expense when it comes to securing your house!” We need the courage to say “We are doing this for the greater good”. It will be difficult but we have to make the tough decisions. Sometimes the government simply has to be the bad guy and say: What you plan to do in municipality B is a really bad idea as it hurts municipality C and D.”
Hans Chr. Schmidt added: “This meeting might go down in history. On April the 27th, the municipalities agreed that the government is allowed to issue a national directive and say “This applies to the whole nation, period!” Remember that when it all starts, for you might as well say it in plain English: Not only do we have to be the bad guys, we need to face the consequences.”
The two mayors on the council were not prepared to go quite that far. “As a starting point it has to come from the government but the challenges must be solved together, the government, regions and municipalities alike,” said the mayor of Hvidovre, Helle Moesgaard Adelborg. “The Local Government Denmark has to represent the municipalities as we are very different. Some face great challenges, others don’t. Is it only those who have the actual problem that pays or is it joint matter? I believe it is a joint matter,” Adelborg said.
Hvidovre experienced these cross-municipal challenges in January where houses along Sydkærsvej were flooded by the Harrestrup Stream. This stream drain off 10 municipalities: Albertslund, Ballerup, Brøndby, Frederiksberg, Gladsaxe, Glostrup, Herlev, Hvidovre, København og Rødovre. A co-operation has been initiated in order to secure the entire stream’s system against climate changes.
Mayor Steen Hasselriis (V) of Halsnæs municipality was unwilling to compromise with regard to the municipal self-government. “I agree that the government should be more engaged in solving the challenges of the citizens. But I don’t want a centralized plan that regulates everything. We don’t need the government to articulate the contents of municipal and local plans.”
He continued: “You shouldn’t mix coastal protection with torrential rain storms. It can be rather difficult for citizens close to Harrestrup Stream to understand the necessity of climate proofing. Coastal protection, on the other hand, is not that hard to understand. The houses will drop into the sea if the coast is left unprotected. It’s as simple as that. That is why it is relatively easy to gain support amongst the plot owners. They are people on the verge of tears, shaking in their shoes about what will happen next. We can agree on finding the money but we run into difficulties with the directorate. That is why I miss the engagement of our government. The system is somewhat laidback. I think we need to step it up – more vigor, please.”
Several other participants at the seminar favored a softer kind of solution as well. One of them said, “Is it really impossible to make an overall governmental plan without having one single solution applied to everyone? It should be possible to consider the local and regional differences and involve the individual town councils and regions in the decisions?”
Detailed regulation is fatal
The supply companies are in a positon to co-finance climate adaption projects by 75%. However, this only applies to the part of the project that is necessary for draining rain water and only if the solution is cheaper than a traditional expansion of the sewage system. A number of other conditions have to be met as well. The supply companies are not allowed to charge the extra money of citizens before The Secretariat for Water Supply has approved it.
The Secretariat for Water Supply is a part of The Danish Competition and Consumer Authority who is charged with keeping the price on drinking water and disposal of discharge water low by enforcing price ceilings and efficiency requirements. A lot of the participants at the seminar were highly discontented with the secretariat. They believe that zealous, inflexible inspections lead to a fatal detailed regulation that is highly limiting for creative solutions regarding torrential rain storms. The supply companies have the expertise and the necessary powers for initiating solutions but the rules should be changed in order for their work to be more flexible and thereby more efficient, according to themselves.
Suggestion: climate tax
The payment itself was on the agenda as well. All properties have a water meter attached to their tap water but not on the discharge water. In Denmark, one pays according to the amount of water one use from the waterworks even though it is called a water drainage tax. If a property economizes their use of water then they will save money on their water bills. If it limits its discharge of rainwater by e.g. green roofs, gathering rainwater, water basins or choosing surfaces that will allow rainwater to soak into the ground rather than repel it and discharge it to the sewage system, it has no effect on their bills.
Several participants suggested that a climate tax be introduced on the discharge of water from roofs and areas with a water-repellant surfacing and outlets to the sewage system. In that way, every plot owner would experience how this strain on our climate comes at a price and the supply companies would gain the revenues needed for funding solutions.
One participant even suggested that The Secretariat for Water Supply should be abolished and that taxes should be managed locally. Another excessive suggestion for furthering the climate adaption and its funding was to include the insurance companies in preventing damages while at the same time laying down conditions, e.g. that if houses are not protected against climate changes within, say, 25 years, then the insurance does not cover any future damages.
The politicians’ seminar was a co-operation between the Capital Region, Water in Urban Areas, KLIKOVAND and The Danish Board of Technology Foundation.
By Ebbe Sønderriis.