A report on the water and adaptation to climate change in transboundary basins workshop organized by UNECE in Geneva, 12-13 April 2011


An estimated 100 participants, including representatives from many United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and non-UNECE countries and UNECE organization partners came together in Geneva for the "2nd Workshop on Water and Adaptation to climate change in transboundary basins: challenges, progress and lessons learned" in the framework of the UNECE Water Convention. The workshop started with a presentation by the Lead Author of the water chapter of the 4th IPCC assessment report on the foreseeable impacts of climate change and the uncertainty involved. While the predictions are fairly robust for some regions such as Russia and the Mediterranean, he stressed the high uncertainty for regions like Africa in making management decisions due to difficulties in predicting future conditions especially in terms of precipitation.

The presentation by Ramsar’s International Organization Partner Wetlands International (WI) "Incorporating ecosystem-based approaches in climate change adaptation strategies" highlighted the bias worldwide towards infrastructural solutions, the non-reflection of ecosystem services in decision making, the possible long-term return of investments into ecosystem services as well as the necessity of a good understanding of the role of ecosystems for a successful adaptation to climate change. Examples of ecosystem management approaches that can be integrated in climate change adaptation strategies included coastal restoration projects such as mangrove reforestation as well as peatland restoration projects. WI is currently developing a training programme on climate change adaptation together with partners such as WWF and Conservation International.

Further, representatives of the pilot projects on adaptation to climate change in transboundary basins under the UNECE Water Convention made their progress reports. "Dauria going dry" is one of those projects and targets the Daurian Wetlands including 4 Ramsar Sites in Russia, China and Mongolia.

Monitoring as well as transparency and openness in terms of data and information exchange were identified as basic needs for adaptation. In terms of climate models, it was found that experts should discuss the technicalities of different models and their characteristics before politics get involved. Despite high uncertainty, no-regret measures can be defined and should be applied. Apart from climate models, economic models should be used in decision-making processes on climate change adaptation to show that investments are reasonable in light of the expected impacts of climate change.

Future challenges that need to be overcome especially in a transboundary cooperation include differences in institutional structures between countries. Further, institutional and legal settings are needed to enforce and fund necessary adaptation measures which should constitute a mix of structural and non-structural measures.

As ecosystems can help us to adapt, an ecosystem approach should be applied. Finally, awareness raising is critical; first because a decrease in water demand is crucial and second because public opinion is important in influencing the political will. Possible topics proposed for discussion in next year’s workshop include insurance mechanisms, recovery measures and groundwater.

All presentations made at this workshop are available here.

The project workshop was followed by the 4th meeting of the Task Force on Water and Climate to focus on opportunities of cooperation and synergies among different programmes and activities, i.e. guided by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the European Commission, the UNESCO project on groundwater resources assessment under the pressures of humanity and climate change (GRAPHIC) and the global water and climate alliance of the World Bank.

Report by Kati Wenzel, Assistant Advisor for Europe

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