Climate change

Climate change has become a very concrete reality for a considerable share of humanity. This phenomenon leads to the depletion of available resources and strongly compromises the economic development of poor regions, who are the less likely to have the means to adapt.

Climate change affects tangible consequences on access to essential urban services

The high levels of density in cities of the global South leads to an increased vulnerability of populations to climate change related disasters (Droughts, floods, typhoons…). In informal settlements, the quality of housing and physical facilities does not prepare citizens to hedge against climate risks. Over half of African and Asian cities being located in coastal areas, the number of people affected by floods each year should keep increasing with rising sea levels to reach over 10 million people. Areas that combine high population density and low altitude areas are the most at risk.

Consequences of climate change should also affect the health condition of millions of poor urban dwellers as it is bound to increase malnutrition, diseases generated by heatwaves, floods, storms, wildfires, and droughts. Despite these forecasts and the scale of expected disruptions, there remains a certain level of uncertainty regarding the reality of climate change impacts. These uncertainties slow stakeholders’ capacity to look to the future and more generally delay the whole decision-making process in development strategies. In the face of those uncertainties was developed the notion of “No-regrets” approach to decision-making and investments, whose peculiarity is to achieve positive returns under all climate scenarios.

Water and energy: two multi-faceted elements at the core of climate change impacts

Water and energy are two fluids at the core of the climate issue and are intricately intertwined in the development of mitigation and adaptation strategies. Cities represent 75% of global energy consumption and produce 80% of Greenhouse Gas effects. Under the cumulated effect of urban population growth, local changes in weather patterns and economic growth, demand for energy could strongly increase. Energy lies at the heart of climate change issues – especially because of environmental impacts – yet it also offers a range of opportunities in terms of mitigation (hydroelectricity, renewable energy, improved infrastructure energy efficiency…).

Water resources are strongly impacted by climate change both quantitatively and qualitatively and are on top of adaptation strategies given the multi-dimensional nature of opportunities (reducing leakage in water networks, improving water management methods, managing flood risks). Just like energy, demand for water in cities should increase due to more frequent heatwaves and urban population growth. Consequences of climate change on precipitations and on sea levels could also affect water treatment and quality in cities.

Climate change adaptation and the conditions for resilience

Adaptation strategies have taken a crucial dimension in developing cities where poverty is an important vulnerability factor. Protecting and strengthening essential services infrastructure, developing early warning systems, as well as promoting renewable energy are major conditions framing cities climate resilience.

Mitigation may appear to be a global level effort, yet the implementation of public policies to tackle climate change effects falls under the responsibility of local governments and requires to involve all stakeholders and especially citizens. Several countries prepare “national climate adaptation frameworks” and a great number of initiatives arise such as the Rockefeller Foundation program that aims to reduce socio-economic impacts of climate disasters and vulnerability of poor communities through better planning, coordination and implementation of city resilience strategies.

Since 2015, the United Nations General Assembly (Sustainable Development Goal No 11), COP21 and forthcoming COP22 have urged decision-makers to work at building more resilient and sustainable cities.

Read more: 8th June 2016 dinner-debate on “COP22 and opportunities to improve access to essential services"

Landmarks

  • The international community launched climate negotiations during the Eath Summit held in Rio in 1992.
  • Kyoto protocol, adopted in 1997, set internationally binding emission reduction targets for industrialized countries.
  • According to the 5th report published by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), GHG emissions increased by 2.2% between 2000 and 2010. If nothing changes, the 2oC rise in temperature threshold will be reached in 2030.
  • Rising sea levels is a major concern given the high degree of urban concentration in coastal areas.
  • By 2025, 1/3 of global population could be facing water stress.
  • During COP21, the topic of mitigation was preferred over adaptation.
  • Morocco wishes to set water as the core of both mitigation and adaptation strategies. Morocco set water, energy and agriculture as priority areas; these areas target communities’ needs, especially in Africa.

Water and Climate

Disruption of the water cycle impacts all human activities, with global consequences on: drinking water accessibility, health, food security, agriculture, economic development, and social progress. These disruptions have been reinforcing territorial inequalities and represent a threat to countries’ stability.

In their 5th report, IPCC strongly emphasises the role and place of water in climate change and claims that “Human influence (…) have likely affected the global water cycle since 1960”. Although one of the main limit to IPCC observations – acknowledged by the authors of the report – is to identify the degree of causal contribution of climate change on water issues against other factors, they still highlight that “Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes”. Water therefore has gained increased importance in IPCC reports, both as a “preeminent intermediary” and a marker of climate change. Working Group II (WGII) devoted a full chapter to the question: Chapter 3, “Freshwater Resources”, describes the whole range of water stresses generated or reinforced by climate change.

But water is also a transversal issue mentioned in different chapters. Water is directly involved in 7 out of 8 major risks listed by IPCC:

  • Risks on low coastal areas resulting from storms, flooding and sea level rise, with a strong impact on livelihoods;
  • Risks for large urban communities in floodable areas.
  • Systematic disruption in basic utility provision in case of extreme events (including water and sanitation);
  • Food insecurity linked to droughts in particular;
  • Water shortages for agricultural communities;
  • Evolution of marine and coastal ecosystems that affect Arctic and tropical communities
  • Threat to humid ecosystems, and the subsequent effects of this disruption;
  • The 8th risk mentioned is that of heatwaves, as they also severely impact water supply and demand.

If global warming surpasses 2°C, each additional degree could generate an overall 20% depletion of renewable water resources for at least 7% of the global population. On average, 80% of the world population already suffers from water stress (availability, demand, pollution).

Climate change could therefore reduce our planet’s renewable water resources (surface and groundwater), thereby exacerbating conflicts of usage, especially in dry intertropical areas whereas, on higher latitudes, water resources are forecasted to increase.

Global demographic dynamics mechanically generate an increase in water demand and therefore, worsen water stresses. To this “numerical” growth add up deep transformations in socio-economic structures, technical evolutions and changes in lifestyles.

In many regions of the world, climate change is indeed a key factor driving increases in water demand from the agricultural sector. This sector is the largest water consumer and 90% of this water is used for irrigation at the global level. 

 

 

To go further, please refer to the article on Water and Climate change published on La Tribune (interview of a member of (Re)sources)

You can also listen to the radio interview of a member of (Re)sources on RFI. 

 

Water and adaptation

Despite a large sum of data pointing the correlation between water and climate change, and important efforts made during the COP21 negotiations, the international community of water practitioners was highly disappointed by the absence of any direct mention of Water in the Paris Agreement (unlike food security, for instance). Nonetheless, several points in the Agreement should contribute to addressing water issues within the climate change agenda: recognition of Human Rights, post-2015 Development Agenda, recognition of the role of local and regional actors, revision of national contributions in 2020, importance of the funding of adaptation projects.

UNFCCC analysis of the 119 country contributions reveals that the three priority areas for adaptation are Water (89 parties), agriculture (82) and Health (67). This confirms the predominant place of water in adaptation policies. Indeed, in addition to being the sector most cited in national contributions, water is intrinsically linked to the other two key areas: agriculture and health. Therefore, water policies are a strong lever for action for development policies in countries affected by climate change.

Water is essentially mentioned throughout four priority areas: Agriculture, Risk Management (meteorological and hydrological variability), Integrated Water Resource Management, Drinking Water Supply.

 

Coastal conservation and fisheries management are issues frequently raised by Parties. They may represent a priority area for adaptation in certain cases (and therefore are mentioned independently from issues of water resources management or ecosystems conservation).

Dams are also a major challenge for adaptation (infrastructure enhancement, modification required by the scarcity of the resource, etc.). It should be mentioned here that in certain contributions, dams and energy production from wastewater are also listed under mitigation strategies.

One can regret the lack of policy linkages between health and water within adaptation strategies. This is clearly visible in the absence of mention of the issue of sanitation in national contributions.

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Climate change