Guidance on Water and Adaptation to Climate Change


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Guidance on Water and Adaptation to Climate Change

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Climate change will result in significant impacts on our water resources and some of the effects are already visible now. Nearly all the countries in the region of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and beyond, are expected to be negatively affected by impacts ranging from increased frequency and intensity of floods and droughts, worse water scarcity, intensified erosion and sedimentation, reductions in glaciers and snow cover, sea level rise, and damage to water quality and ecosystems. Moreover, climate change impacts on water resources will have cascading effects on human health and many parts of the economy and society, as various sectors directly depend on water such as agriculture, energy and hydropower, navigation, health, tourism – as does the environment.

Adaptation to climate change is therefore a moral, economic and social imperative: action is needed now and water management should be a central element in the adaptation strategy of any country. Inaction could put sustainable development at risk: during the first years of the 2000s alone, thousands of lives and billions of dollars were lost through water-related disasters worldwide. On the other hand, the potential rewards of early action are high, as improved prevention, disaster preparedness and other adaptation measures, as well as adaptation of lifestyles, can vastly reduce these figures.

A particular challenge for water resources management is connected to the fact that almost half of the world’s total land surface is drained by international river basins. Additionally, numerous groundwater resources are also transboundary. These transboundary waters create hydrological, social and economic interdependencies between countries. As both water and climate change do not respect borders, it adds an international dimension to climate change adaptation. This can have obvious security implications: namely, a growing potential for conflict arising from competition over dwindling water resources and the risk of countries taking unilateral measures with possible negative effects on riparian countries. Thus, in addition to the uncertainty over climate change impacts, countries are faced with uncertainty about their neighbours’ reactions. Transboundary cooperation is therefore necessary to prevent negative impacts of unilateral measures and to support the coordination of adaptation measures at the river-basin level. This makes transboundary water resources management one of the most important challenges today and in the years to come.

The 1992 UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes provides a sound framework for transboundary cooperation, also in the context of adaptation to climate change. Developed under the Convention and its Protocol on Water and Health, this Guidance aims to spur climate change adaptation that takes into account the transboundary dimension of water management. It is a novel and innovative advancement: the first document of its kind to focus on the transboundary setting and illustrate the steps needed to develop an adaptation strategy. Based on the concept of integrated water resources management, the Guidance provides advice to decision makers and water managers on how to assess impacts of climate change on water quantity and quality, how to perform risk assessment, including health risk assessment, how to gauge vulnerability, and how to design and implement appropriate adaptation strategies. The Guidance is a collaborative achievement: more than 80 experts from national authorities, academia, non-governmental and international organizations contributed to its preparation. Building on the principles of the Convention and on the experience gained in its implementation, the Guidance places special emphasis on the specific problems and requirements of transboundary basins, with the objectives of preventing, controlling and reducing transboundary impacts of national adaptation measures and thereby preventing and resolving possible conflict. The Guidance also underlines the benefits of cooperation in adapting to climate change in transboundary basins: sharing the costs and benefits of adaptation measures, better managing uncertainty through the exchange of information, broadening the knowledge base, and enlarging the range of measures available for prevention, preparedness and recovery, thus allowing us to find better and more cost-effective solutions.

Only concerted and coordinated action will enable countries to deal with the uncertainties of climate change and to tackle its impacts effectively. We trust that this Guidance will help countries to jointly cope with climate change impacts in the UNECE region and around the world. As the first product of its kind in the region – and worldwide – it is hardly an endpoint for the work on adaptation to climate change in transboundary basins. Rather, it is an initial step towards the planning and implementation of sound, cooperative adaptation strategies and measures.


See also

Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes


climate change

Transboundary Waters

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