Adaptive Water Governance in Action

26 September 2013 | News story

One of the key messages coming from this year's World Water Week in Stockholm was that climate change is an opportunity for transboundary cooperation. After a series of different seminars and side events dedicated to exploring this topic, there are several arguments that support this.

It is clear that a growing number of eco regions and countries are experiencing rising levels of water stress as climate change is putting additional pressure on the availability of water resources. This is experienced mainly through higher variability, intensity and frequency of droughts and floods. In a transboundary context, the additional pressure on water resources leaves two options. Firstly, States can opt for unilateral action motivated by self-interest in a context of competition over water. However, this can exacerbate existing regional tensions and may eventually lead to conflict. Secondly, the vital nature of freshwater can also be seen as a key ingredient for cooperation.

Based on discussions during World Water Week, transboundary water cooperation in the context of climate change adaptation takes place at a 'multiplicity of levels'. These range from formal discussions, characterized by State diplomatic relations and treaties framing the terms of engagement between the parties; all the way to community engagement in the context of "relatively small scale" parts of shared river basins. At this level, communities often engage across borders with their neighbors to tackle common problems in search of common solutions.

Diplomatic means of transboundary cooperation such as strengthening planning, legal and management frameworks for adaptive water management and creating or reinforcing institutional structures is instrumental in forming appropriate responses to the challenges posed by climate change. This consists of joint activities such as data sharing and coordination of major developments across the river course which may have an impact on the water quality or quantity. In moving transboundary cooperative processes forward, a long-term perspective is imperative and this is the main reason why such adaptive governance frameworks are an essential piece of the cooperation puzzle. However, such frameworks only set up the 'institutional architecture' for the cooperation and joint adaptive planning.

At other administrative scales, there are other means of cooperating which are also important. Remembering that adaptation is a local issue where the impacts are most felt, is at this level where we start seeing the relevance of community engagement and stakeholder participation. This is a key element that assures implementation and enforcement of different strategies for adaptation. It is also at this level where there is a greater understanding of livelihoods and how they are impacted by climate change.

Ideally, in a multi-level governance context, what is being applied and discovered at the more local levels feeds into and builds on the more conventional diplomatic approaches to transboundary water governance. This is one of the pillars of so called adaptive water governance. The 'rseponse' during Water Week was that conventional diplomatic approaches take time, and that we cannot and should not wait for these "formalities" as a requisite for water cooperation.Multi-level governance teaches us that we should be creative and even daring, framing the wills and positions of different stakeholders into adaptive strategies that can best serve the interests of all parties in search of the types of agreements that account for the best benefits possible.


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