Closing panel of the event
About 150 experts discussed adaptation strategies

2007 World Water Week: Climate change strategies

Developing countries will be hit especially hard by climate change. At the first Water and Climate Day, held on 15 August as part of the 2007 World Water Week in Stockholm, more than 150 experts gathered to discuss strategies for helping such countries adapt to changes in their environment. In all, 13 organisations, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the European Commission, the German Federal Environment Ministry and the Munich Re Foundation, had invited some 20 speakers to address the issues involved.

Billions afflicted by water stress

In his opening presentation, Prof. Zbigniew Kundzewicz was in no doubt that climate change was already in full swing. The author of the chapter on water in the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pointed out that 11 of the past 12 years had been among the hottest recorded since the mid-19th century, and 2007 seemed likely to follow suit.

Whilst the effects this will have on the global water balance are not clear, the experts agree on what lies in store for many regions. Thus, average annual precipitation is expected to be higher in India and lower in the Mediterranean region. Furthermore, precipitation is likely to be more concentrated, not falling when it is needed most, so that parts of India may well be exposed to drought. Prof. von Kundzewicz’s conclusions were disquieting: some 1.7 billion people are currently affected by water stress, having far less water than they require. As a result of population growth and climate change, that figure will rise to up to 3.2 billion. Prof. von Kundzewicz forecast that in the overall water balance, the negative effects would carry more weight.

Industrialised countries also affected

There will be significant economic consequences, and these will not be confined to the developing world. Experts predict that by 2070 hydroelectric power generation in Spain will have fallen by a quarter. Daniela Jacob of the Meteorological Institute Hamburg drew attention to the local impact, particularly on rivers. The flow of the Danube, Elbe and Rhine was expected to fall by 5–20% on average. The reduction in water flow could be as much as two-thirds in a hot summer, causing severe problems for shipping. Bryson Bates, Climate Director of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, argued that we should pay greater heed to the effects of climate change when planning our water supply systems, even if it meant far higher costs. He quoted the examples of Perth, where a second desalination plant had been built with a price tag of Aus$ 375m, and Melbourne, which was contemplating a plant that could cost billions.

Dearth of information puts the brake on planning

Casey Brown, Water Team Leader at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, New York, noted that although timely action helped to keep the costs down, the uncertainty of the forecasts caused planners major headaches. He observed that whilst hydraulic engineers thought in static terms, climate change was dynamic. This highlighted the need for still closer networking between water managements and climate research experts. Henk van Schaik, of The Netherlands’ Cooperative Programme on Water and Climate, welcomed the fact that things had at any rate started moving in the right direction. Whilst climate experts might not deliver 100% forecasts, they were now at least engaged in discussions with the water management sector.

Climate change still overlooked in development strategies

His colleague, Dr. Fulco Ludwig, added that there were still problems when it came to implementing the outcome of those discussions. Scarcely any development plans took the impact of climate change into account. However, in countries like Chad and Mozambique, a close link had been identified between economic strength and precipitation levels, especially where agricultural produce was concerned. The policymakers had to understand the need to make provision in the rainy season in order to survive the subsequent drought.

Prof. Bogardi of the Institute for Environment and Human Security of the United Nations University, Bonn, emphasised that development aid continued to overlook climate change. Africa was one of the most vulnerable regions. Studies by The Netherlands’ DGIS aid agency had shown that, in some countries, up to half of ongoing projects were threatened by the effects of climate change. The DGIS’s Danielle Hirsch added that such analyses involved minimal time and expense.

Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Environment Institute considered water to be the main factor in attaining the UN’s food Millennium Development Goals. He called for

  • greater use of rainwater resources;
  • a combining of investments in small and larger-scale water supply systems. Smaller reservoirs close to the source were able to collect more water than large, remote reservoirs.
  • increased productivity to reduce water consumption per unit of output;
  • minimisation of the risks through the use of local knowledge.
Financing still to be clarified

According to the World Bank’s Vahid Alavian, US$ 10–40bn will be needed each year to help the developing countries adapt. The following issues will have to be taken into account:

  • Climate management has to become an integral part of good practice.
  • Priority must be given to backing local players.
  • The costs and benefits of the different measures must be assessed.

It is not clear where the money will come from, scant consideration having been given to climate change so far in the financing of development aid. However, not to act would be an even more costly option. The fog nets project in Eritrea and River Búzi flood-warning system in Mozambique, both co-financed by the Munich Re Foundation, proved that aid did not have to involve major expense. Dirk Reinhard of the Munich Re Foundation: “The key to success is the involvement of the local community and not necessarily the available funding. The money has to be used in a way that specifically targets the needs and skills of people on the spot.”

Ensuring the sustainability of the projects

The closing discussion, led by Roberto Lenton of the International Research Institute on Climate and Society (New York), again demonstrated that, as well as affecting the water balance, climate change has far-reaching consequences in terms of economic development and poverty. It was, accordingly, imperative that future strategies look beyond 2015, the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. We also had to ensure that projects remained viable despite changes in climate conditions. Finally, participants urged that climate and water take greater precedence in international political and economic summits.