Water and Climate: Focus of 2010 World Water Week

06 October 2010 | News story

How does water allocation happen if water resources increasingly fluctuate? What does sustainability mean in the context of an evolving definition of “normal”?

Changing Climate, Shifting Institutions, Building Governance and Capacity was the focus of a seminar organized by IUCN’s Water Programme and members WWF-US and Conservation International at this year’s Water Week in Stockholm. Climate change poses a serious challenge to water resource managers. In many cases, institutions have not been able to use adaptive management tools and approaches for water resources – such as Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), basin-level planning or environmental flows analyses, under a stationary climate.

This struggle will become even harder under a shifting, changing climate. The IUCN co-convened seminar saw policy-makers and water managers debating what governance arrangements will be needed to deal with moving targets for water management under climate change.

John Matthews of WWF-US, introducing the session, argued that priorities for climate change adaptation are too often based on a false assumption “that we can really know all we need to know about how climate will change, that modeling will find the answer, that infrastructure will save us.” He worried that “thinking like this, we mistakenly try to put complexity aside. Climate change is then just a technical problem, and that to adapt, all we need is the right recipe book.”

Participants dissected this assumption in round-table dialogues and a panel discussion. Based on grass-roots experience from Tanzania, Irene Chikira, Community Officer for the Pangani Basin Water Office, spoke of the importance of good governance. “It is very important for us to listen and understand what goes on within the communities. How can people start communicating between upstream and downstream water users? The Basin is stressed, there are many water needs, yet the water quality and quantity is low." Irene pointed to climate projections which show that Basin flows will further decrease and pose serious challenges. “However, through good governance systems, we can assist and support in reducing conflict and vulnerability, and build up climate change resilience. Through different institutions and community knowledge, adaptation activities and coping strategies are developed.

Le Van Minh, from the Vietnam Agricultural and Rural Development Ministry, agreed on the role of governance; “I observed the Ministry did not understand, but step by step, climate change adaptation was accepted, and this was the starting point to good governance.”

At the closing of the seminar, Mark Smith, Head of the IUCN Water Programme, concluded that “the management of water resources must be flexible and span multiple possible futures. Water governance institutions will have to be able to learn and evolve in pace with the climate.” Summing up, he said “complexity is the true nature of the problem. Yes, infrastructure can help us, but it is organizing ourselves with effective, flexible, adaptive institutions – with the right roles and responsibilities from local through to national and global levels – that is what will save us.”

For more information, please contact water@iucn.org