Water, a Connector to Transform Climate Policy and Action

The significance of the UN climate change summit this week in Paris is not (only) about ensuring a high-level, legally binding political commitment to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and prevent the planet´s average temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Its relevance lies, instead, in the opportunity for broader sectors of society to participate in and influence climate change policy and practice.

While ambitious international goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will help avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, they offer no solution for climate-related disasters that are now inevitable. That means more severe storms, floods and droughts – whose frequency, magnitude and impact are expected to grow in intensity.

Mitigation strategies are imperative to reduce the drivers of climate change, but adaptation strategies become ever more essential to minimize its irreversible impacts. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than water – the primary medium through which climate change impacts will be felt by humans, society and the environment. In fact, 95 percent of all hazards associated with climate change are water-related [1].

Putting all our trust in a legally binding agreement for our climate and water challenges, fails to appreciate the capacity and responsibility of professionals across different sectors to take action before it’s too late, or adaptation becomes too costly.

This is the reason the IWA is participating in the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation’s “Climate is Water: Solutions for the Future” side event at the COP21 in Paris. The event highlights the critical importance of water to climate negotiations, and will articulate the need to transform climate policy and action to integrate the perspectives and lessons of a sector that is intrinsically central to climate change.

Resilience is the desired outcome driving mitigation and adaptation strategies. In an increasingly urbanised world, enhancing the resilience of our cities requires the mobilisation of a broad coalition of actors beyond just national governments. The urban water cycle, the connective tissue between these multiple stakeholders, and water resources management can become central to strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Many cities around the world are already addressing mitigation and adaptation synergistically to temper the impacts of climate change. For obvious reasons resilience in The Netherlands has always been a policy priority: 60% of the country is located below sea level and 70% of the GNP is earned in these flood-prone areas. Resilience is seen in its widest context, beyond hard water infrastructure.

Rotterdam’s efforts to become “climate proof” through water sensitive urban design, is just one example.  The city is building green infrastructure and rainwater storage to adapt to more intense rain events, while simultaneously contributing to mitigate the drivers of climate change by offsetting the need for energy intensive water supplies. This measure reduces energy requirements as well as direct emissions from sewer overflows.

Paris, this year’s host of the climate change summit, provides a good example of how France is adapting to anticipated lower flows in the Seine River and the need to discharge less nutrients to preserve the health of the river. The design of new toilet systems to separate nitrogen from urine at the building level to be re-used as a fertiliser is being investigated. This initiative is intended to mitigate emissions on various fronts: a reduction in energy use from treatment and transportation of wastewater, an increase in renewable energy generation from wastewater and the cyclical component of re-use.

These examples highlight at the city, building and individual level, there exist adaptation options that simultaneously serve mitigation priorities, creating a virtuous circle that reduces the impacts to which we would otherwise need to adapt.

The COP21 isn’t the only response to climate change. It shouldn’t be. In an era where disruptions and uncertainty become the new normal, our capacity to adapt and the adequacy of our responses at basin, city and utility level, ought to reflect the changing conditions of our environment and climate variability.

It does, however, provide entry points for integrating water into climate policy and action. Promoting good water governance, integrated water resources management and urban water resilience are important enablers for water to be integrated into a successful, solutions-oriented climate policy.

 

Join us at the COP21 and spread the word that #climateiswater!

 

Climate is Water: “Solutions for the future”

Date: Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Time: 11:00 to 14:30

Venue: Nelson Mandela Auditorium, Climate Generations Areas, Le Bourget – Paris

 


[1] A review of the integration of water within the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted by the Parties, produced by the French Water Partnership and Coalition Eau, reveals that for most parties water will be one of the key adaptation challenges to climate change. Whereas adaptation is a prominent concern for developing countries, most developed countries don’t even mention it on their INDCs. Given that the implementation of adaptation measures is largely dependant on financial support by developed countries, the review concludes that “placing [adaptation] at the heart of the negotiation will thus be one of the main challenges of this COP21 for developing countries”, and the negotation on financing mechanisms, determinant in the inclusion of water in the national policies of developing countries.

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Corinne Trommsdorff

Programme Manager, Cities of the Future
Corinne Trommsdorff has a Masters in agriculture science and environmental engineering from the Institut National Agronomique Paris-Grignon, AgroParisTech, and has over 15 years of experience working as a consultant, with a focus in later years on en... Read full biography