Adaptation to Climate Change in Europe and Central Asia


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Key messages (adopted from the Guidance Note by the UNECE Water Convention Task Force - July 2009)

The draft Guidance on Water and Climate Adaptation was prepared during 2007-2009 by the Task Force on Water and Climate to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) mandated at the fourth Meeting or the Parties (Bonn, November 2006). The Guidance is (expected to be) adopted at the fifth Meeting of the Parties of the Water Convention (10-12 November 2009).

At its second meeting on 24 April 2009, the Task Force decided that an executive summary should be developed by the drafting group, targeted at policy-makers and potential readers of the Guidance. It was decided that the executive summary should be developed based on main messages of the draft Guidance.

1. Adaptation to climate change in water management is needed now.

Hydrometeorological records and climate projections provide abundant evidence that water resources are vulnerable and can be strongly impacted by climate change, with wide-ranging consequences for human societies and ecosystems. Nearly all UNECE countries are anticipated to be negatively affected. Such impacts vary greatly from region to region and include increased frequency and intensity of floods and droughts, greater water scarcity, intensified erosion, decline of glacier and snow cover, sea level rise, salinisation, impacts on water quality as well as ecosystems. Many countries are already experiencing climate change impacts and paying the economic and social consequences. Mitigation efforts have started but will take too long to show effects. Therefore, it is both urgent and cost-effective to start adaptation now.

2. Uncertainty should never be a reason not to act.

The knowledge about climate change is accompanied by a certain level of uncertainty. Nevertheless, trends are visible which enable action. A twin-track approach combining immediate action and further research is therefore recommended. Water management and water related policies and measures need to be adapted now to climate change on the basis of current knowledge and insights in the climate change effects. At the same time research into the effects of climate should be promoted to deepen the knowledge base. Implementing this approach requires political leadership, especially in situations where financial resources are limited.

3. Since uncertainties concerning the impacts of climate change on the water environment, where possible, adaptation measures should be developed in such a way to allow for maximum flexibility.

Uncertainties undoubtedly exist regarding the directions or nature of change in hydrological systems. Therefore, interventions selected should be sufficiently flexible to deliver benefits under a range of conditions rather than being designed for what are thought to be the “most likely” future conditions. If conditions change again or if changes are different from those expected today, the implemented measures should be able to change accordingly and not hinder adaptation to the new conditions. Win-win, no-regret and low-regret measures should be prioritized. Another approach to deal with uncertainty is to reduce the current vulnerabilities increasing resilience and adaptive capacity. Ecosystems provide a wide range of services including climate and flood regulation; therefore, increasing their resilience is vital.

4. The need for adaptation is not only a burden but can also be an opportunity for innovation and new technologies.

The need for adaptation requires a paradigm shift; thinking out of the box. This may stimulate alternative and innovative approaches. In particular it is crucial to shift from a supply-side approach to a more sustainable, “demand-led” approach to water resource management, focusing on conserving water and using it more efficiently.

5. Water management is a key-factor in adaptation to climate change, in particular as many sectors directly depend from water resources availability.

Thus, water is an essential element that limits or enhances any adaptation option in all water-related sectors. Climate change directly affects the global hydrological cycle, influencing the variability in water availability and quality. This is expected to have cascading effects on human health and on many economic sectors such as agriculture (increased demand for irrigation and forestry), energy (reduced hydropower potential and cooling water availability), recreation (water-linked tourism), fisheries and navigation. Serious impacts on biodiversity also loom. This central role of water in climate change adaptation needs to be acknowledged and reflected in adaptation policies in addition to the decisive roles of land-use and ecosystems. As climate change, mainly through the water cycle, affects many different sectors, policy developments in these sectors should consider climate change effects.

6. Any adaptation policy should consider climate change in the context of the many other pressures on water resources such as population growth, migration, globalization, changing consumption patterns and agricultural and industrial developments.

Water resources are affected by numerous and inter-linked pressures; climate change impacts on water resources should be considered together with these other pressure factors and adaptation should be coordinated with other water management measures and be integrated in an overall strategy in order to adapt to global changes. Pressure factors should be considered as a system with positive and negative feedback loops, synergies and interferences. Scenarios can be helpful in assessing possible effects of these different pressures and in developing water management measures.

7. Effective adaptation to climate change requires a cross-sectoral approach when formulating and evaluating options.

Adaptation planning should consider and prevent possible conflicts between different sectors as well as tradeoffs between adaptation and mitigation measures. Uncoordinated sectoral responses can be ineffective or even counterproductive because response in one sector can increase the vulnerability of another sector and/or reduce the effectiveness of adaptation responses taken in that sector. Climate change adaptation should be integrated into the existing policy development, in planning, programmes and budgeting across a broad range of economic sectors, a process generally called ‘mainstreaming’. Moreover mitigation measures should be considered in view of their consequences for adaptation, and vice versa. For example, biofuel production as a mitigation measure can have negative impacts on water supply and food production, while building settlements in flood-prone areas not only increases the vulnerability but can also hinder implementing adaptation measures.

8. Stakeholder participation, is crucial for all steps of the development and implementation of adaptation strategies and measures.

From the identification of the information needs, to vulnerability assessment; planning, prioritization and selection of adaptation measures, the knowledge, capacity and views of concerned actors are crucial to ensure soundness, effectiveness and sustainability of adaptation. In the transboundary context this requires close coordination and cooperation between riparian countries. Inclusion of utilities managers is crucial to ensure continued operation of water supply and sanitation facilities under changing conditions.

9. Transboundary cooperation is both necessary and beneficial in adapting to climate change. It is needed throughout the adaptation process.

Some 50% of the earths’ surface is drained by international basins and an additional surface area influences international groundwaters. The transboundary nature of many watercourses, especially in the UNECE region entails that risks and challenges are shared and that solutions need to be coordinated. Transboundary cooperation in the development of adaptation strategies is not only necessary to ensure that unilaterally taken measures do not have unintended effects in neighbouring countries but can also bring mutual benefit for all riparian Parties, for example by sharing costs and benefits of adaptation measures or by reducing uncertainty through exchange of data and information. Transboundary cooperation can widen the knowledge/ information base, enlarge the set of available measures for prevention, preparedness and recovery and thereby help to find better and more cost effective solutions. The UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes offers a sound framework for cooperation at the transboundary level to adapt to climate change.

10. In a transboundary context, riparian countries should focus on preventing transboundary impacts, sharing benefits and risks in an equitable and reasonable manner and cooperating on the basis of equality and reciprocity.

By considering costs and benefits on a basin-scale, new options for adaptation open up that can prove more cost-effective. Existing and possibly differing levels of capacity should also be taken into account.

11. Implementing integrated water resources management supports climate change adaptation.

The core principles of integrated water resources management (IWRM) include planning at the level of the river basin, strong intersectoral cooperation, public participation and optimization of the use of water resources. Those same principles are also at the basis of any effective adaptation strategy. Thus incorporating climate change effects into IWRM and fostering the implementation of IWRM will advance adaptation to climate change.

12. Barriers to adaptation in the legal, institutional and policy frameworks should be removed. Legislation should be developed in a flexible way to be able to cope with different possible climate change impacts.

Legislation should not present barriers for adaptation and be flexible enough to accommodate ongoing environmental and socio-economic changes. In particular existing legislation and transboundary agreements might require revision. As a first step, existing legislation, from the local to the transboundary levels, should be assessed vis-à-vis its capacity to support adaptation to climate change. For example, legislation prohibiting the use of wastewater may need to be changed into legislation that sets requirements on the safe use of wastewater. Transboundary agreements should include provisions for addressing flow variability and availability of safe water.

13. Implementation of national legislation and international commitments supports climate change adaptation.

A number of international agreements include provisions and have developed tools that can support the development of adaptation strategies. Countries should take into account and build on such provisions so to maximize results and ensure coherence of policies and adopted measures.

14. Education, capacity-building and communication are imperative for effective climate change adaptation.

Ignorance or unawareness can be an important cause of vulnerability. Informing operators and the population on the mechanisms that drive climate change on the other hand will enhance their ability to cope with climate change impacts. By promoting and facilitating education and capacity-building and communicating with sectors, including water services and public health communities, as well as the public at large, governments can reduce the vulnerability to climate change effects. Moreover education can help to prevent maladaptation or negative effects of autonomous adaptation.

15. There is a general need for exchange of knowledge and experiences to enhance the capacity of countries to adapt and to cope with climate change.

Climate change is a relatively new phenomenon, the effects of which on the quantity and quality of water resources and related influence on human health are not known to their full extent. Little experience in developing adaptation strategies and measures is available yet, even less at the transboundary level. Knowledge developed by countries and experiences in implementing measures in basins can be beneficial for other countries also for reduction of environment-related health-risks.

16. Availability of data and information is crucial for making climate projections and identifying vulnerable groups and regions. Sharing of information between countries and sectors is essential for effective and efficient climate change adaptation.

Data collection should cover all aspects of the hydrological cycle, considering the needs of the final users, but also include social and economic information. Early-warning systems are essential for preparedness to extreme weather events and should be developed on a transboundary level, to allow for effective sharing of information. Monitoring and observation systems should be adaptive to the changes in the information needs that could occur in the future. By sharing of information, countries and sectors can extend and deepen their understanding of climate change effects, improve their models and better assess the vulnerabilities connected to climate change, especially in a transboundary basin. Information exchange, or even better, joint information collection, is therefore imperative to build the knowledge base needed to face climate change effects. Riparian countries should develop common scenarios and models to develop a joint understanding of possible climate change impacts.

17. Effective adaptation strategies are a mix of structural and non-structural, regulatory and economic instruments, and education and awareness-raising measures to tackle short-, medium- and long-term impacts of climate change.

No single measure is capable of fully addressing the climate change effects. Successful adaptation strategies therefore combine a variety of measures that target different groups and time-scales. Any adaptation strategy should include measures in all the steps of the adaptation chain: prevention, improving resilience, preparation, response, and recovery.

18. Adaptation measures should strive to be cost-effective, environmentally sustainable, culturally compatible and socially acceptable.

Prioritization of adaptation measures should be based on the results of vulnerability assessments, costs and benefits assessments as well as on development objectives, stakeholder considerations and the resources available. As a first step, available measures should be described according to their benefits, risks, costs, possible side-effects, uncertainties etc. Secondly, measures need to be compared and ranked, using various methods ranging from systematic qualitative analysis, semi-quantitative analysis in order to compare different attributes or parameters, and full quantitative analysis of risks, costs and benefits.

19. Adaptation may be costly, but it is much more cost-effective to start adaptation now since costs will be much higher once climate change effects are irreversible. Financing of adaptation measures should be a mix of public and private funding.

Pricing mechanisms and markets can help to achieve a more efficient allocation of water resources; however equity considerations must also be taken into account. Mechanisms like insurance can play an important role in climate change adaptation in the context of extreme weather events and should be part of a country’s disaster risk reduction and prevention strategy.

20. The process of developing and implementing adaptation measures should build on learning-by-doing.

Measures as implemented may not have the desired effects or have unexpected side-effects, while the climate change effects may turn out differently from the expectations. To be able to address such unexpected outcomes, a continuous evaluation is needed where the objectives are compared to the actual outcomes and changes in the strategies can be implemented timely. Pilot projects can help to develop and implement adaptation strategies.


See also

External Resources


 Water Convention-Guidance Climat Chenage Adaptation-main messages-Jul09.doc

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