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Adaptation to Climate Change

Climate Change Adaptation and Water
Water resources have always varied in time and space. Drainage patterns, flora and fauna have developed accordingly, water resources management likewise. The core business of water resources management is about coping with variability: storing excess water from wet periods to bridge dry spells, protecting low lying areas from floods, balancing withdrawal between upstream and downstream areas and between different uses etc. From the lens of water management climate change therefore does not entail something radically new; it means that the dynamic characteristics of the water cycle have changed. And perhaps even more important, it means that these characteristics no longer are stationary over the life span of current and planned water infrastructure. A changing climate is directly felt in the water sector; consequently, much work on adaptation and building resilience needs to be done through the water sector.

Water is the medium through which climate change expresses itself
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their Technical Paper VI Climate Change and Water of June 2008 conclude that observational records and climate projections provide abundant evidence that freshwater resources are vulnerable and have the potential to be strongly impacted by climate change, with wide-ranging consequences for human societies and ecosystems.

The expected climate change over the forthcoming century will lead to an intensification of the global hydrological cycle and have a significant impact on regional water resources via changes in precipitation, evaporation and temperature. Water stress is already high in most of the developing world, the present scientific consensus is that those areas of the world that are already experiencing water stresses are also those in which rainfall is likely to be even more variable as the climate changes. Climate change is also likely to lead to increase the magnitude and frequency of precipitation related disasters, such as floods, mudslides, typhoons and cyclones. Flows in rivers are likely to decrease at low flow periods, as a result of increased evaporation, and runoff increase with high rainfall events and waste overflows, both of which will degrade water quality. Increased temperatures and changes in precipitation are projected to accelerate the retreat and loss of glaciers, impacting on the timing of stream flow regimes and thereby downstream agriculture. A warmer climate will also lead to sea-level rise which will have severe impact on coastal zones, estuaries, river deltas and islands. Heavily populated low lying areas, glacial fed river basins and the semi-arid regions of the developing world, which are already poor and face major water resource management and food security problems, are likely to be the most severely impacted by the on-going climate change.

UNDP’s Response
Adaptation to the impacts of climate change will be expensive and will require difficult policy shifts. UNDP works with countries to strengthen the governance and improving the management of water accompanied by investment in infrastructure projects, such as wastewater treatment facilities and structures for water storage and flood control.

It is critical climate change in water governance in the context of reducing vulnerability of the poor, to maintain sustainable livelihoods and support sustainable development. UNDP promotes multi-stakeholder dialogue (involving more than just water managers), address issues relating to development, planning and fiscal incentives. UNDPalso supports mechanisms to strengthen the capacity of governments and civil society organizations to assess the impact of climate variability and change on integrated water resources management, and assists the formulation of adaptation strategies to integrate these impacts into poverty reduction strategies, and national and local development planning.”

In summary UNDP’s role for climate change adaptation in the water sector is to:

  • Raise awareness of water and climate issues and integrate climate change consideration into water governance reform, participatory scenario planning and capacity building for water resources management, water supply and sanitation
  • Enhance national institutional capacities to build resilience and mainstream climate change adaptation into water resource management and decision making processes
  • Assess financing requirements, sources and flows for adaptation response measures
  • Support vertically integrated development, coordination and implementation of water related climate change adaptation strategies – transboundary, national, local scales.
  • Facilitate a coordinated UN system support at national level
  • Develop knowledge products from on the ground lessons learned to help guide decision making and promote replication in other countries.

A constraining factor is the lack of accurate regionally and basin specific climate change data and the considerable uncertainty in the potential range of variation in the predictions, but in many instances we know what we need to do: improve the governance and management of water resources. Strengthening resilience and capacity to manage today’s climate is often an appropriate response to future climate change threats. Therefore the focus on adaptation could also become a development opportunity with positive impacts on all the MDGs.

More about UNDP's work on Climate Change