Water Resources and Climate Change: Uncertainties and Crosscutting Challenges of the 21st Century
Climate change adds to the existing drivers of water stress and challenges our understanding of water security. Existing water related challenges include: feeding a growing population, rapid urbanization, ensuring household access to safe water and adequate sanitation, ensuring adequate water for agriculture and industry, controlling pollution and managing waste water. Understanding and managing the effects of a changing climate adds to these pressures, which is aided by scientific evidence, which provides an enlightened insight about the status and extent of climate change impacts on ecosystems, hydrological cycle and human development.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports (2013; 2014) provide scientific evidence about the implications of climate variations and temperature changes on availability and distribution of rainfall, snowmelt, river flows, groundwater, and the deterioration of water quality. Complex science indicates that the dominant mechanisms to which recent climate change has been attributed are anthropogenic (i.e. resulting from human activities). These are often attributed to increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, deforestation and land use changes, and aerosols.
It is hard to understand and address climate change uncertainties and water resources related challenges from one perspective. For instance, in terms of water resources and climate change adaptation, a number of perspectives need to be taken into consideration by addressing three principal dimensions;
- hotspots: including mountains, small islands, arid regions, deltas and coastal cities;
- sub-sectoral perspectives; including the environment, food, urban poverty, water supply and sanitation, business, industry, and energy;
- enabling mechanisms: including planning, governance, finance, engineering, strategic environmental assessment and integrated water resources management.
Water Resources and Climate Change: A multi-disciplinary approach
Putting the different pieces of the puzzle together requires collaboration and integration of different disciplines and expertise. Scientists, policymakers and practitioners are realizing the importance of collaboration and interconnectedness of their work. The complex relations between climate change, ecosystem response, water quality, water consumption patterns and policy actions are not always fully understood, and models that do take account of several of these aspects cannot be easily coupled (UNESCO, 2015). As such, the global scientific community cannot afford for individual disciplines to work in isolation or in silos. This is especially true when addressing the implications of climate change on water security.
ELDIS Key Issues Guide on Climate Change and Water Resources
The Eldis Key Issues Guide on water resources and climate change (also published by UN Water) provides an introductory snapshot of three key issues relevant to the state of uncertainties around climate change and water resources:
In the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), addressing the uncertainty of climate change implications on water resources is of utmost importance given that ‘water is at the core of sustainable development’. The upcoming 'Our Common Future Under Climate Change' conference in Paris (7-10 July 2015) is seen as an opportunity to take stock of existing knowledge, and explore innovative solutions as part of the preparing for post-2015 climate governance structure. With a number of side events looking at water resources through different lens (water and trade, water and energy, water and food, etc), it is clear that water resources are considered a key issue. Now we have to see what emerges from these discussions.
Image: Learning from adaptation experiences of communities, Timothy Mwaura, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0