Restoration of Protected Lakes Under Climate Change: What Legal Measures Are Needed to Help Biodiversity Adapt to the Changing Climate? The Case of Lake IJssel, Netherlands

15 Pages Posted: 14 May 2019

Date Written: April 14, 2019


Lakes around the world are heavily impacted by climate change. Droughts, floods, higher water temperatures, changes in biodiversity, even sea level rise, all have an impact on fresh water lakes. In this paper, I look into the question what legal measures are needed to protect lakes against these impacts, with a focus on biodiversity conservation. How can law help to implement the necessary climate change adaptation measures related to biodiversity conservation for lakes?

First, I briefly summarize current and projected climate change impacts on lakes, taking the recent IPCC’s Special Report ‘Global Warming of 1.5 °C’ (SR15) as a basis. The biggest problem for most lakes around the world is that the current conservation status is already poor to begin with, even in the absence of climate change. Most protected lakes are not in a favourable condition. Restoration, therefore, is much needed. Climate change further adds to the need to restore areas and connect them to become an ecological network as the impact of climate change on species viability correlates with the degree of connectedness of the habitat of that species. The IPCC’s SR15, as well as earlier IPCC reports, indicate that the adaptation measures that, generally, are needed, are threefold: ecosystem restoration and connectivity, adjusted management, and assisted colonization of endangered species.

Second, I discuss whether these three interventions, in theory, are required, facilitated or perhaps obstructed under current nature conservation and/or water law. For this step, I primarily focus on current international law, such as the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, as well as on European Union law, such as the Wild Birds and Habitats Directives (‘Natura 2000 framework’). I search for provisions in these and other legal instruments that are relevant for climate change adaptation measures focusing on lakes. I also review non-legally binding documents, such as COP decisions under the Ramsar Convention addressing climate change impacts on protected lakes.

Third, I test the findings of the previous step in a case study into Lake IJssel (IJsselmeer) in the Netherlands, a protected lake under the Ramsar Convention and the EU’s Natura 2000 framework. Lake IJssel is the biggest fresh water body in the Netherlands and is the country’s main water reservoir, both for drinking water and for agricultural irrigation. Fisheries, tourism, shipping, sand extraction, artificial water level management, industrialization, urbanization and the construction of wind farms all affect the integrity of the lake. Climate change exacerbates these human pressures. Several measures are being discussed or implemented to reduce or mitigate the human pressures on the lake. Climate change impacts, however, do not seem to play a big role in these discussions. In this third step, I review the various documents underlying the decision-making with regard to Lake IJssel to assess whether the three types of adaptation measures that are suggested by the IPCC indeed are being implemented. I also test what the role of law is or has been.

The paper finds that the legal framework to guide climate changed adaptation policies for protected lakes is only partly available. Key elements of a legal framework that facilitates such policies are: legally binding overall conservation goals aimed at specific lake habitats and species; administrative laws, and a legal culture, that facilitate collaborate decision-making among all levels of government involved, under the guidance and supervision of one authority that bears ultimate responsibility for the process; all the authorities involved have to rely on a range of legal frameworks to achieve the restoration plans for the lake, such as water laws, spatial planning laws, fisheries laws, agricultural laws, environmental laws etc.; administrative laws, and a legal culture, that facilitate involvement of non-governmental actors, such as businesses, environmental NGOs and local residents throughout the entire process; and a financial budget to implement the policies, including a budget to compensate economic losses of those stakeholders for whom there is no room under the future plans.

Suggested Citation

Verschuuren, Jonathan, Restoration of Protected Lakes Under Climate Change: What Legal Measures Are Needed to Help Biodiversity Adapt to the Changing Climate? The Case of Lake IJssel, Netherlands (April 14, 2019). Tilburg Law School Research Paper Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Jonathan Verschuuren (Contact Author)

Tilburg Law School ( email )

Tilburg, 5000 LE

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