Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

Short and tempestuous rain showers

24 Dec 2014

Classic Dutch clouds painted by Van Ruysdael

Casualties, damage and long power outages; the rain and storm that hit Northern California last week was all over the news. I work in one of the few offices prepared for such events, so I was able to witness a ghost city. During a meeting of European diplomats, we wondered why such a developed city is so ill prepared for what we considered to be normal autumn weather. But once you realize that San Francisco is on the same latitude as Palermo on Sicily, you come to understand that the exceptional peaks in the weather are the cause.

California has experienced extreme drought the last three years, and suddenly the sluices of heaven have opened. “Dutch weather,” some people call it. Nevertheless, with two weeks to go it is already certain that the Netherlands will have the warmest annual temperature in at least 300 years. Moreover, the number of areas with a water shortage (rain minus evaporation) is a matter of growing concern. No one believes me when I tell them that it does not rain in the Netherlands 93 percent of the time.

I was the Netherlands’ climate envoy in my previous job, not weather envoy, but when I gather information about the weather over a period of more than 50 years, lower precipitation and higher temperatures become relevant. It took the climate conference in Lima, Peru, 12 days and 30 extra hours to close a deal to stay on track toward a final deal next year in Paris. At the start, the 196 countries were optimistic because the old rich-poor barrier seemed to dilute. Rich countries have fulfilled quite a lot of their commitments to mitigate their CO2 emissions and financially compensate vulnerable countries. Poor countries became aware that they are the biggest polluters now.

UN climate conference flawed

In the last couple of days of the conference, the “like-minded countries” nevertheless demanded compensation in exchange for reducing their enormous carbon incomes (from coal, oil and gas). Because the other countries were not ready to bargain about this, the outcome of the UN climate conference was flawed. I wonder whether this old school approach will be adjusted, and if these countries realize before Paris that agreeing to a global climate agreement will hurt their economies less than depending on the cold market mechanism that will lower the crude oil price from $60 per barrel today to perhaps $40 tomorrow.

Even after a successful outcome in Paris, short heavy rains will increase. Cities should become resilient to this reality with less sealed soil and more open water, green parks, and spongy asphalt. That would make cities more livable at the same time.


This blog was posted earlier in Hugo’s Weekly.

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  • 24 Dec 2014, 8:00
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About the author

Hugo Von Meijenfeldt
Written by Hugo Von Meijenfeldt

Consul-General in San Francisco

Hugo von Meijenfeldt was appointed as representative for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the 13 westernmost United States in August 2013.

Prior to his current position, Hugo was Deputy Director General at the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. He also served as Special Envoy for Climate Change at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2009 until 2013. In this capacity, he led Dutch participation in global diplomatic activities to reach a climate agreement.

Previously, Hugo was Director for Soil, Water and Rural Environment. For several years he held the position of Deputy Director for International Affairs, Chairman of the Committee on Environmental Policy of UN-ECE Geneva, and Head of the European Policy Division (including the EU Presidency in 1997). From 1982 until 1991, he was Legal Counsel to the soil clean-up division.

Hugo earned his Masters in Public Law and Policy at the Free University in Amsterdam in 1981. He is member of the WorldConnectors and the Sustainability Challenge Foundation.