Water at COP25: Resilience enables climate change adaptation

FutureDAMS’ researchers Julien Harou, Judith Plummer Braeckmann and Sanna Markkanen presented at COP25 (Madrid, December 2019). Reflecting on their experience, they have contributed to the latest Institute of Civil Engineers’ proceedings on the emerging trends and research on water management.

At the 2019 UN Conference of the Parties (COP25) water was a prominent topic. This is unsurprising given that 90% of all natural disasters are water related: water and climate change are inextricably linked. Water is linked to other sectors like food and energy production and transportation, meaning its management and planning are key to adaptation strategies more generally. Water resource system users need to adapt to a changing climate as a political, social and economic imperative.

“With effective climate policies and tools, countries can avoid increased regional and sectoral resource conflicts, social and economic disruption, environmental degradation and internal and international political conflict over water”.

Trends in water availability change over time and supply and demand may become subject to ‘deep’ uncertainty, so resilience (the ability to function, adjust and recover) will become essential. Enhancing and enabling resilience will adapt water resource systems to climate change. 

To build resilience we need robustness and flexibility:

  • Robustness implies satisfactory performance across a wide range of possible futures.
  • Flexibility means being able to adjust and respond as the future manifests.

Several enabling factors were discussed at COP25 and the ICE proceedings present three of them: planning, governance and finance.


Improved planning helps reach resilience goals. To provide better information on how climate change impacts manifest, we will need to better understand how benefits, costs and risks are distributed spatially and over time in resource systems. To do this we need integrated investment-to-impact assessment tools coupled with participatory systems-scale planning methods to evaluate interventions.

When diverse and representative stakeholder groups work together to achieve broadly acceptable outcomes, co-creation results and the adoption of such planning approaches becomes governance change.

The FutureDAMS project is developing a new framework for integrated system decision-making to enable effective design of complex systems. Our methods for open and strategic co-design will use innovative and appropriate climate and hydrological science, engineering, economic, political-science and social analytical methods to assist in the development of water-energy-food-environment interventions that have high social and economic value, despite uncertainties about the future.

FutureDAMS is also co-developing a state-of-the-art online integrated assessment modelling toolset for assessing and optimising system designs. Factors to be explored include alternative operating regimes, locations and sizes of new infrastructure, trade-offs and synergies between alternatives and links with wider regional energy, food and economic production, and ecological and social systems. An online software suite will facilitate collaborative working between diverse groups such as local, national and regional stakeholder and sectoral groups, investors, planners, consultants and academics.

Related FutureDAMS literature:


Good governance enables good water-climate outcomes and catalyses resilience.

…The efficacy of governance reflects the ability to set and enforce effective policies that help achieve sustainable outcomes under poorly predictable change.

This can be enabled through collaboration among government agencies, more inclusive management (i.e. including the private sector and civil society), effective planning and regulatory regimes, and support of transboundary water management.

COP25 sessions discussed the governance responsibilities of water managers: proposing policy and investments, prioritising investments for leaders, and helping other resource system policy makers to consider their connectedness to water for cross-sector policies and collaboration.

Related FutureDAMS literature:


Effective governance can create a stable environment for financing interventions and projects, including things that improve resilience. Financing investments that have a positive cumulative impact on climate and water outcomes can be aided by climate-labelled finance and climate-proofed finance and unexpected costs needn’t be absorbed by people and organisations alone, but shared, if enabled by financial products and services such as insurance.

COP25 built momentum behind the idea that the water sector must assist and enable the creation of new financial products to manage risks and direct finance to projects that achieve good outcomes at system-scale.

Finance and financial services need to align investment incentives with increased system-scale resilience.

Related FutureDAMS literature:

Download the full ICE Proceedings: ‘Water at COP25: Resilience enables climate change adaptation through better planning, governance and finance’.

The ICE Proceedings suggest “that increasing resilience of water-environment-human systems is key to enabling climate change adaptation”. This can be achieved through better planning, governance and finance. In line with this conclusion, FutureDAMS is well placed to make a valuable contribution by providing the knowledge base, tools and approach to improve the planning and governance of integrated water-energy-food-environment systems, and in turn helping countries to meet their goals for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Paper reference:
Harou JJ, Matthews JH, Smith DM et al. (2020) Water at COP25: Resilience enables climate change adaptation through better planning, governance and finance. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers – Water Management. 173(2): 55–58

Photo by Mathias Alvebring from FreeImages

Note: This article gives the views of the author/academics featured and does not represent the views of FutureDAMS as a whole.

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