Leveraging public adaptation finance through urban land reclamation: cases from Germany, the Netherlands and the Maldives


Flood risk in urban areas around the world is increasing due to socio-economic development and climate change. Urban climate adaptation measures are beneficial over the longer term, particularly in coastal areas, yet the upfront costs of such measures are significant. Moreover, public actors responsible for adaptation to flood risk face constrained budgets. A promising strategy for overcoming these constraints and enabling greater adaptation investment is land reclamation that includes adaptation, i.e. flood risk reduction. Land reclamation in high-value urban areas can generate substantial revenues through the sale or lease of new land, or taxes on increased economic activities, thus offsetting public adaptation investments. This paper explores the potential of land reclamation for leveraging public adaptation investments and associated distributional issues, by analysing 3 urban land reclamation and adaptation projects in Germany, the Netherlands and the Maldives. We find that all projects have leveraging potential, and leveraging in projects primarily aimed at land creation is particularly high. Further, due to low adaptation costs needed to protect revenue streams in such projects, these investments appear to be ‘low-regret’. Regarding distributional aspects, high project costs and limited public budgets for adaptation constrain public actors’ ability to ensure equitable outcomes through planning instruments, for example, social housing. Further, in implementation, competition for project benefits can lead to further inequalities. We conclude that urban land reclamation presents a significant opportunity to leverage public adaptation investments under certain conditions. We further outline future research needs including to extend land-based financing theory from related urban infrastructure sectors to inform the design of equitable governance arrangements and to better understand the role of such urban land reclamation projects in regional or national development pathways.
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