Climate Change 2001:
Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
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4.8.3. Adapting to Climate Change

Water managers are beginning to consider adapting to climate change. Some—but not all—water management plans and infrastructure have long lead times and long design lives. Improved understanding of the “science” of climate change impacts in the water sector is important but is not in itself enough to enable efficient adaptation. This is because it will never be feasible to base decisions on just one future climate scenario, particularly for time horizons greater than a decade. This is partly a result of incomplete knowledge but largely because of inherent uncertainty in future emissions of GHGs. Therefore, water managers always will be dealing with a range of scenarios, and research aimed at enabling efficient adaptation consequently must focus largely on appropriate analytical and management tools to cope with uncertainty and change rather than on “improving” climate change science and scenarios per se. In some aspects of water management—particularly associated with water quality—scientific research into processes is fundamental to allowing efficient adaptation.

Efficient adaptation to climate change in the water sector requires effort in five main areas:

Note that the above efforts are needed to improve water management even in the absence of climate change, and there is an overarching need to improve the exchange of information between hydrological science and water managers.

Water managers have long been accustomed to dealing with change, although until recently this has been primarily change resulting from changes in demand and altered legislative or statutory requirements. Climate change does not in itself stimulate development of new adaptive strategies, but it encourages a more adaptive, incremental, risk-based approach to water management. More precisely, it provides further encouragement for a trend that already is gathering pace.

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