Guidance on Water and Adaptation to Climate Change

Countries need to adapt to climate change jointly without delay! This is the main message of the Guidance on Water and Adaptation to Climate Change, developed under the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) and recently adopted by its 36 Parties at their fifth meeting (Geneva, 10–12 November 2009).


Most extreme climate events involve too much or too little water. Like climate change, water knows no borders. Countries must adapt - and work together when doing so. Adaptation measures, especially structural measures such as dams, reservoirs or dykes can have significant effects on other riparian countries. What to do if an upstream country unilaterally builds a dam to retain water for its population during droughts, but the water downstream is drastically reduced? What can be done if an upstream country is bound by an agreement stipulating the delivery of a specific amount of water downstream, but the overall amount of water is reduced? The Guidance describes how to prevent such situations and how to deal with them should they arise: for instance, by empowering existing institutions for cooperation on transboundary waters with the required authority to address climate change impacts, by opening consultations, pooling knowledge and initiating joint action.

In the UNECE region, most watercourses cross borders: there are more than 150 transboundary rivers, 50 major transboundary lakes and more than 170 transboundary groundwater systems. Transboundary cooperation on adaptation strategies is currently almost non-existent, however. The danger is that dwindling water resources will increase the risk of conflict; a threat to UNECE member States as well as to many parts of the world. Cooperation on adaptation can help to find better and more cost-effective solutions, by enlarging the geographical area considered in planning measures, broadening the information base and combining efforts.

The Guidance is a unique tool. It explains step by step how to develop and implement an adaptation strategy in the transboundary context. Based on the concept of integrated water resources management, the Guidance provides advice to decision makers and water managers on how to assess impacts of climate change on water quantity and quality, how to perform risk assessment, including health risks, how to gauge vulnerability, and how to design and implement appropriate adaptation strategies. More than 80 different authors from many countries and disciplines contributed to the Guidance. It features nearly 40 case studies – illustrating, for example, how river basins like the Rhine or the Danube are preparing for climate change. Projects on the ground will be developed to strengthen capacity to adapt in different transboundary basins, particularly in South-Eastern Europe, and in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia. Preliminary plans include projects for the Dniester River basin, shared by Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, and for the Chu and Talas basins, shared by Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.


acrobat_icon Guidance on Water and Adaptation to Climate Change (English version)

acrobat_icon Guidance on Water and Adaptation to Climate Change (Russian version)