Enhancing Climate Services for Improved Water Management
Based on the findings of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2014) climate change is expected to have a large impact on the availability and demand for water resources, which in turn will exacerbate existing issues in other water-dependent sectors such as health, food production and sustainable energy and for biodiversity. Impacts will arise as much from changes in variability and in extreme events as from changes in mean levels. In fact, water is likely to be one of the main media through which climate change will manifest itself and impact people, ecosystems and economies, potentially jeopardizing sustainable development and poverty reduction efforts.
Over the last two decades, climate system science has achieved remarkable advances in monitoring, modelling and prediction of weather and climate, providing valuable information for decision making. Unfortunately, there exists a significant gap between information availability and the actual uptake by stakeholders. While climate science is reaching maturity in terms of how results are provided thanks to the coordinated action of the IPCC, on the stakeholder side no such framework has yet matured. This has led to an abundance of publicly available data and information on potential impact of climate change, such as the CMIP5 global circulation model outputs (IPCC, 2015), but lack of expert knowledge from the user side has limited the use of this information to effectively develop and implement adaptation strategies to climate change at the local level. This mismatch needs to be addressed in order for vulnerable water-stressed communities to benefit from the foresight provided by climate science.
To bridge this gap the concept of climate services has been introduced as a response to the two basic facts: i) everyone is affected by climate, ii) needs-based climate services are extremely effective in helping communities, businesses, organizations and governments to manage the risks and take advantage of the opportunities associated with the climate. There is a yawning gap between the needs for climate services and their current provision. Climate services are weakest in the places that need them most, the climate-vulnerable developing countries (WMO, 2011).
Climate services have the objective to provide an effective mechanism to connect climate information with the decision-making processes of stakeholders at different levels of decision making in water management – from the national policy level down to the individual household and farmer. Each user has specific requirements for climate information to factor into their decision-making processes. A farmer needs to decide which crops to plant, when to sow and when to harvest. For those farmers that irrigate, anticipated water allocation is very important information which is often lacking. District irrigation managers need to optimize the allocation of water under their control. Policymakers generally deal with long time horizons such as in deciding allocation rules and entitlements for water-using sectors, priorities for water use during drought, regulations on water quality and economic development policies that impinge upon water resources. For these longer time frames, the changes in climate which are already being observed, as well as the expected changes are relevant in this decision-making process, but deep uncertainty of climate change scenarios complicate the consideration of this information.
Based on the outcomes of the High Level Meeting on National Drought Policy in 2013, the three key components of risk management has been highlighted. The first component focusses on monitoring and early warning capacities as the foundation of a risk management plan. This is linked with vulnerability/resilience and impact assessment to identify those areas and livelihoods that are most prone to the impact of drought and flood risks. Finally, the mitigation and response planning is closely linked to the other two, and provides preparation and mitigation based on monitoring and early warning, prioritizing most vulnerable areas. These aspects will be considered in this project, to support the implementation of the climate services and information required to move towards integrated risk management policies.
Figure 1. The three pillars to risk preparedness (adapted from Verbist et al., 2016)
But also at the local watershed level, gaps have been identified that limit the use of available climate information for decision making on water resources management. Specifically, water users’ vulnerable to climatic variability and change are insufficiently informed on current and expected climate conditions at the seasonal as well as the longer timescales (pillar 1 – Figure 1). But also vulnerabilities of local livelihoods are currently insufficiently identified (pillar 2 – Figure 1), limiting an effective drought response and impact mitigation (pillar 3 – Figure 1). This results in a lack of adaptation of local stakeholders, generating shocks for society, sparking social unrest and potential conflicts over water-related issues.
Therefore, a framework is needed to address the different challenges at the national and at the local watershed level related to climate risks to water resources. This will include three types of activities:
- Region-wide activity implementation: strengthening of climate services and capacity building of national hydrometeorological agencies.
- Implementation of integrated climate services in Member States, based on monitoring and early warning, vulnerability assessment and in support of proactive drought and flood management strategies and policies.
- Outreach to men and women who are local and national stakeholders and capacity building of key actors to improve resilience to climate variability and change.
 Verbist, K., A. Amani, A. Mishra, and B.J. Cisneros. 2016. Strengthening drought risk management and policy: UNESCO International Hydrological Programme’s case studies from Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. Water Policy, 18 (S2) 245-261; DOI: 10.2166/wp.2016.223.