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Netherlands Shares Climate Change Advice With Poorer Countries


Here's a country with a close view of climate change. The Netherlands is called that for a reason. And as climate talks continue, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from a nation with much at stake.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The Dutch have a saying - God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland. That's because much of the Netherlands would be underwater, or regularly flooded by the sea and rivers, without the country's elaborate system of dikes and drainage.

HUBERT HIELTJES: The tradition of water managements go back to 13th century, so it's more than eight centuries that we work on dikes and climate adaptation.

BEARDSLEY: That's Hubert Hieltjes, an engineer with the Dutch Water Authority. He says though the Netherlands has always pushed back the sea, global warming is making it harder. There is heavier rainfall, more frequent flooding and longer periods of drought, which dries out the ground and makes it harder to absorb water when the rains do come.

DE BEER: Good afternoon, I am Paul de Beer. I am alderman sustainability in the city of Breda.

BEARDSLEY: Paul de Beer is an alderman in the Dutch city of Breda. He says his town is changing its city plans to deal with expected floods and excess water.

DE BEER: Now we want to hold the water in certain areas in the city to go in the ground.

BEARDSLEY: So some dikes are being lowered, with land set aside as floodplains to absorb billions of gallons of water. And de Beer says rivers that were straightened in the 1950s are now being restored to their original, meandering route. He says a meandering river isn't a rushing river.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Lowering a dike in the Netherlands...

BEARDSLEY: A Dutch presentation at the summit outlines the many ways Dutch towns are working to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Dutch water engineers came to New Orleans to help after Hurricane Katrina. Now they're in Paris to share their experience with the world.

JULIEN ADOUNKPE: I want to know what is that...

BEARDSLEY: Questions come from developing nations facing the same problems who are also being asked, for the first time, to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Julien Adounkpe, a delegate from the coastal African country of Benin, says poor countries must do their part, even if global warming isn't their fault.

ADOUNKPE: Even though we are not that strongly responsible for what we are experiencing now from climate change, we have to contribute.

BEARDSLEY: Because, says Adounkpe, sooner or later, everyone's going to be affected. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.