Interview with Avinash Tyagi: Water and Climate Change
Avinash Tyagi is the Director of the Climate and Water Department (CLW) of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). We asked him about the Task Force’s work and the upcoming major climate events: the World Climate Conference -3 (WCC-3) and the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
What is the greatest priority in the area of water and climate change?
“According to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fourth assessment report, water resources will be affected the most by potential climate change. Therefore, first and foremost, we need to gain a better understanding of the impact of climate change on the factors that may influence water management practices. We have some general ideas about how climate change may affect water availability, but we have very little understanding about how other global changes combined with climate change will affect water demands and influence different sectors.”
Curt Carnemark/World Bank “Gaining a better understanding of these relationships is especially important at the national, basin and local levels, where most of the water-related actions to mitigate or adapt to climate change will be carried out. At the moment, most countries do not have the means for understanding or making quantitative assessments of how water availability and water quality will change and how other changes, such as shifting land use patterns, will influence each other. For example, how does increased forestation, which can be used to mitigate climate change, affect lean season run off; or how does it affect flood magnitudes? We need to gain greater understanding of these interactions before we can adapt water management practices effectively in response to climate change.”
“It is not only technical and scientific issues that require more certainty. Institutional matters also need to be addressed. Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) provides the framework under which climate change adaptations can be initiated and sustained. We have made some progress on IWRM but we need to accelerate the process. We all recognize that we need to adopt a river basin approach to water resources management. But current institutional arrangements often don’t lend themselves to this approach. We need to better coordinate the actions among the different institutions responsible for managing water resources. It will help us better understand how different uses and different stakeholders influence each other as climate change and climate change policies affect water resources. Factoring climate change in water sector calls for accelerating the pace of institutional reforms to embrace adaptive management principles.”
What has the task force accomplished to date?
“Much of our recent work has focused on understanding how various agencies involved in water management issues can support Member countries in facing up to this new challenge. How should our activities, separately and jointly as UN-Water, be adjusted to incorporate yet another relatively uncertain factor? How should we work together on climate change issues so as to serve the mandate of each member agency more effectively?”
"As indicated in the Task Force’s terms of reference, we are carrying out a mapping exercise of UN-Water members and partners on their mandates and capacities related to water and climate issues. The initial outputs of this mapping exercise will be available at the COP 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark in December. We will hold the first full session of the Task Force at the UN-Water meeting in Stockholm in August."
"We are also preparing two white papers on the ‘needs’ and ‘capabilities’ of the water sector for climate information. They will be presented at the special session on Climate and Water at the WCC-3. We will be circulating drafts of these papers to Task Force members for their input. It is expected that members will circulate these drafts to their expert networks in different sub-sectors relevant to their respective organizations and channel their feedback."
How does water fit into the WCC-3 and COP15?
WCC-3 poster “The first World Climate Conference in 1979 essentially laid the foundations for a scientific understanding of climate change. In 1990, the second World Climate Conference sowed the seeds for political negotiations and collective actions. These seeds later sprouted in the form of UNFCCC. We have now reached a stage where we need to bridge the gap between the climate information providers on one hand and various sectoral users on the other. At the WCC-3 we are looking forward to establishing a framework for providing climate information and predictions that would make it possible to take concrete actions for mitigating and adapting to climate change in ways that improve social well-being. As water is one of the sectors most vulnerable to climate variability and change, a special session on ‘Climate and Water’ will be organized."
COP15 logo "We need to strengthen the capacity of users in the water sector to understand and apply available scientific information on climate variability and change. But this isn’t easy. Climate information consists of very heavy data sets. They can be difficult to download and difficult to process and analyse. So a whole series of intermediate steps need to be taken in order to make this information available to the various users working in the water sector, particularly in developing countries. Taking these necessary steps will require infrastructure development, transfer of technology, capacity building and financing."
"We also have to realize that bridges run both ways. Climate information providers need to understand the information needs and the information capacities of various users. The white papers being prepared for the WCC-3 will help articulate the climate change information needs for the water sector to the scientific community.”
"Climate adaptation depends on having the right information. How can we adapt if we don’t know what we have to adapt to? Despite advances in our understanding of climate, there are many questions related to climate change that are yet to be answered with required certainty. For effective adaptation strategies, we need seasonal to decadal predictions, which are still in the nascent stage of development and are mired with large uncertainties. To a certain extent, this uncertainty is influenced by the gaps in climate and hydrological monitoring and availability of data and information."
"In the water sector, we are aware of the importance of exchanging information for managing water resources at the basin level. Unfortunately, political considerations can make policy makers, particularly in transboundary river basins, very protective of the hydrological data. Sharing and exchange of hydrological data and information with the global research community is fundamental to the improvement in downscaling outputs of global climate change models to regional levels where they can be put to practical use."
“At the World Climate Conference - 3, we are hoping to establish a global framework for climate services, which would address issues related to the crucial observation gaps, climate research, provision of climate services and user interaction for application of these services."
"In the past, much of the focus at the COP sessions of the UNFCCC has been placed on the energy sector and on efforts to mitigate climate change. But as the reality of climate change has set in, adaptation has moved up on the political agenda and water management will be central to sustainable adaptive actions."
"At the COP 15 our efforts will be focused on building awareness among the Parties about the importance of water issues for adaptation strategies. We will stress the fundamental need for improving climate information to develop sustainable adaptation strategies; improving institutional framework for IWRM to facilitate adaptive management; increasing financing for water infrastructure; and facilitating the transfer of technology for bringing efficiency in water use.”