The Policy & Practice of Climate Change & Water

Crowd-sourcing the Missing Ingredient for Climate Action: Water

BONN, GERMANY: 22 November 2019
In December 2015, the world’s leaders came together to sign the landmark Paris Agreement to reduce the rate of climate change and to help developing nations adjust to ongoing negative impacts. Few of those leaders realized, however, that the Paris Agreement was also a massive water commitment, with freshwater resources essential to meet most global and national climate mitigation and adaptation targets. The Paris Agreement ignores water and its central role in climate change, but since 2015 a broad coalition has become concerned about how we ensure sufficient water for climate success, according to a new report published by the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA). In Watering the NDCs: National Climate Planning for 2020 and Beyond--How water-aware climate policies can strengthen climate change mitigation & adaptation goals, a global group of hundreds of climate professionals have defined a path for integrating water into our climate responses.

“Slowing and stopping climate change is all about making clean energy choices. But there’s as much water in a kilowatt of hydropower as there is in kilowatt of many types of thermal energy — even more for new sources such as biofuels. At the same time, we also need more water for farmers as rainfall patterns change and cities continue to grow. Climate change means using more water, more intensively,” says Ingrid Timboe, Policy Director at AGWA and lead author of Watering the NDCs.

By crowdsourcing with national, sectoral, and civil society partners from more than 100 countries, AGWA has synthesized a short set of recommendations to guide countries in the choices they make in recognizing the water embedded across sectors and climate targets. “Effective climate action is defined by making conscious tradeoffs and better choices about how and where we use our limited, shifting water resources, especially between how we invest in smarter energy choices and how we help economies, ecosystems, and communities adapt to ongoing climate impacts,” according to Diego J. Rodriguez, senior World Bank economist and co-chair of AGWA’s board.

The report provides guiding principles and recommendations for national climate planners and decision-makers to help them ensure that they meet their goals within their national adaptation plans (NAPs) and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by considering the reality of their water management across sectors and what needs to be done to make that management robust and flexible enough to withstand climate change, while allowing countries continue to sustainably. “This policy brief is clear and easy to understand and will be very helpful for countries and their NDCs. I believe it will be well received by Parties,” according to Cecilia Silva Bernardo, Head of Climate Change Vulnerabilities Department of Angola’s Ministry of Environment and Member of the UNFCCC Adaptation Committee. “We cannot meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on adaptation or mitigation without understanding the role of water,” says Robert Kranefield, Policy Advisor for Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. “It's great to see how these policy recommendations and guidelines make those connections and call upon the climate and water community to collaborate as they move forward with updating their Nationally Determined Contributions."

A key finding is that countries need to make our water supply and management systems resilient — a goal that no country globally has done effectively do date. “For most countries, hydrology is destiny — at least climate destiny. We’ve assumed that knowing how much water we’ve had in the past is a guarantee of sustainability. The science tells us otherwise. No one has data from the future. If we can make our water choices resilient by anticipating how water will change in the future, we can prepare the energy, agriculture, urban, disaster risk, and healthcare sectors for new impacts,” says John Matthews, Executive Director of AGWA. “Assumptions that future climate and hydrological conditions will be similar to the past no longer apply.”

Investment decisions made today can lock in long term water commitments that can severely limit, even cripple future economies. “A water treatment plant, an electrical utility reservoir, or a stormwater system will last decades into the future — probably centuries in some cases. If we can make our climate policies water-resilient, we can make our climate goals successful. In effect, we should rewrite the decision making software that runs our climate action hardware — thinking forward with how water will shift, evolve, and change, so that the Paris Agreement is seen as a success in five, ten, and fifty years from now,” according to Kathryn Pharr, co-author of Watering the NDCs.


The report was made possible by support from Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) of the Federal Republic of Germany.


Founded in 2010, the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) is an international members-based NGO for water resources adaptation to climate change, focused on supporting experts, decision makers, and institutions within the water community to find common solutions for sustainable water resources management. More information at

Media Contact:
Alex Mauroner, Network Director at the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation

For Interviews:
Ingrid Timboe, Policy Director at the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation

John Matthews, Executive Director at the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation

AGWA Updates: November 2019

We have just released the latest issue of AGWA Updates, our internal e-newsletter. You can access the November issue by clicking here. You'll want to check out this issue to learn about the incredible amount of activity taking place within the AGWA network. As always it is full of the latest news on the intersection of climate and water from the fields of climate change adaptation, climate finance, policy, and much more. Stay updated! Stay informed!

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