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Emerging opportunities based on resilience, climate and water intersections in the Indo-Pacific region

By Sarah Ransom and Isobel Davis

Australia’s neighbours in the Indo-Pacific, the world’s most populous region with some of the world’s smallest occupied land masses, are attempting to pursue development pathways that prioritise climate resilience. This is an area of active learning as we all try to understand the ways that development objectives can be achieved while simultaneously managing the increasing pace and intensity of climate change impacts.  Ideally, development must decarbonise and at the same time manage an extensive range of climate risks that are already unfolding.

We find ourselves in a time of intense visioning as partners engage with how to plan for an increasingly uncertain future. Thankfully there is momentum to consider climate resilience and flexibility more systematically and to use water management as a tool to achieve climate mitigation and adaptation targets.    

Emerging climate resilience practice

As AWP moves into a third phase, we are reevaluating our approach to sustainable and climate-resilient water management that supports countries in the Indo-Pacific region to address a wide range of climate change issues and challenges.  A recent AWP and Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) briefing note, Understanding Indo-Pacific Climate Resilience: The Contribution of Water, examined current practice in climate resilience across the region.

Villagers strengthening a dike to protect the village from the high tide water In the Sundarbans forest area, Bangladesh. Credit: K M Asad / Flickr (CC BY-NC)

The briefing note suggests that our understanding of climate resilience is evolving: “adaptation is increasingly being distinguished from resilience, with adaptation more narrowly targeting responses to specific climate impacts and resilience encompassing system-level function and integrity” (Weinberg, J., Matthews, J., Mauroner, A., and Harpham, K, 2024, p 2). The opportunity provided here is that climate resilience approaches offer ways for water management to be understood and addressed as a systemic solution which supports flexibility and adaptive capacity of economies, policies, financial institutions, ecosystems, and physical infrastructure. Water provides a lens to acknowledge the interdependence and convergence of climate resilience, mitigation and adaptation, and water.

New methods and tools are becoming available that are more able to inform planning under significant uncertainty, for example, Climate Risk Informed Decision Analysis, and Joint Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management. However, they are not yet widely used or acknowledged in development or climate planning, which tends to be “top-down, sectoral, project focused, and directive” (Weinberg et al, p 1).

Supporting water and national climate planning

A further AWP exercise reviewed a range of national climate planning documents to understand where water is already seen as a climate issue, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation. The documents included Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), and World Bank Country Climate and Development Reports (CCDRs).  

Our review of the current NDCs and NAPs of 15 countries in the Indo-Pacific region found that while they vary in length and level of detail, water is consistently present across the climate change context, impacts and future challenges outlined. For example:

“Pakistan, although only contributing 0.9% to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change. These impacts are primarily in the form of intense flooding, drastic change in rainfall patterns, melting Himalayan glaciers, increasing cases of vector-borne diseases such as dengue, and an overall increase in the frequency and intensity of climate-induced natural disasters” (NDC, p 12).

In addition, “water resources” is commonly identified as an adaptation priority sector, as well as being well-integrated across multiple other priority sectors. For example:

“Vanuatu recognises that Climate Change vulnerability significantly impacts the safety, security and availability of water; and so aims to strengthen coordination with other sectors and partners to understand, predict, design and invest to secure Vanuatu’s water future” (Vanuatu’s NDC, p.14).

However, water is rarely mentioned in mitigation targets and efforts except for waste and/or wastewater management, which forms a lower portion of emissions reduction targets after larger commitments in energy, agriculture, transport and forestry and other land use (in 12 of the 15 countries). In five countries, water is part of the renewable energy mitigation objectives through expanding hydropower.

AWP has observed that water’s deep underpinnings of many mitigation actions are often not visible in national climate planning, for example, hydropower energy targets do not include important consideration of systemic changes in water availability nor climate resilience planning. In addition, strategies to achieve economic growth and decarbonisation are often in conflict:

“The challenge for Indonesia and other large developing economies is how to decouple growth and GHG emissions. No country has transitioned to high-income status while also reducing emissions, yet this is the challenge implicit in the low-carbon transition.” (WB CCDR, 2023, p.4)

We, and many of our partners, believe water has a much larger role to play in supporting climate change mitigation than previously recognised, and water sector efforts to address this are developing rapidly. For example, see the UNSW & UN Water Expert Group on Water and Climate Change recent report: “Water for Climate Mitigation: Estimating the Global Freshwater Requirements of Climate Mitigation Measures”. The areas of opportunity include reducing emissions in water supply, wastewater management and sanitation, and in agriculture, renewable energy and through nature-based solutions. In addition, climate resilient water management can serve as a multi-sector approach to achieve decarbonisation and economic growth.

Opportunities for integrating resilience, climate and water

More broadly, professional practice on climate resilience is developing across the region, and it indicates some new areas of focus that could be considered in the forthcoming round of NDCs and NAPs, to capture water-related system-level changes. In the Indo-Pacific region these major system changes include, for example, the loss of Himalaya glacier and snowpack melt in the dry season, intensified cycles of flood and drought in the Mekong, and increased cyclone and other weather-related disasters across the Pacific islands.

“Water is clearly a climate hazard, but water resilience is a way to view water as a systemic solution shared across projects and institutions. Treating water as a dynamic, coordinating medium for resilience is a relatively new strategy.” (Weinberg et al, 2024, p.2)

An example of ways to include water in national planning and financing is the Water Tracker for National Climate Planning. Implemented in 12 countries, the tracker is an example of an effective method that promotes water in national climate planning emphasising the interconnectedness of water across sectors and the importance of cross-sector collaboration required to adapt to meet climate and development goals. For further information and a case study in Nepal see the Briefing note.

Rehabilitating Jakarta’s waterways to mitigate flood risk. Credit: Farhana Asnap, World Bank, via Flickr (CC BY-NC)

Another example found in the analysis of the Indo-Pacific climate planning documents is reference to water as being key to economic resilience especially in countries with a strong agriculture sector.  For example, improving climate-smart irrigation, water-efficiency and flood resilience in Indonesia (CCDR, 2023), or transforming the agri-food system and strengthening the productivity of agricultural water in Pakistan (CCDR, 2022), or in Vietnam shifting from a “wasteful approach to economic expansion—as producers often use more land, water, wood, energy, and other resources per unit of output than in other countries—to a development model that manages natural capital more sustainably” (CCDR, 2022, p 6).

These examples show that resilience is starting to be considered in climate planning across the Indo-Pacific region, but that it is early days. We can all play a part in better communicating the interconnectedness of water and climate mitigation efforts, as well as climate resilience approaches. There is great potential for the implementation of robust and flexible water management solutions to change the current thinking from de-risking infrastructure and sectoral operations towards new practice in international development which supports climate resilience and economic growth and prosperity.  

The challenge and opportunity we all have in front of us is to drive a more climate resilience focussed approach to water management, making the case for investments in water mitigation and adaptation efforts in national climate planning and financing. While significant climate finance is being made available for mitigation priorities in energy, agriculture, land and forestry use, we need to ensure that we support countries in the region and other development actors to prioritise investments in systemic and flexible climate resilient water management.

Integrated water resource management projects will remain a key target investment area to support through climate financing proposals (Timor-Leste, NDC, p. 41).

Looking forward

For partners across the Indo-Pacific, water-related climate adaptation is an immediate concern, but progress on mitigation targets is further behind. Taking a longer view across the spectrum of water and climate issues in the Indo-Pacific, an area for new thinking is considering climate resilience more systematically. Broader dialogue between practitioners and policymakers and those active in the rapidly developing research space will be important.  There will also be opportunities for partnerships for mutual support and knowledge sharing in this new, convergent space of development and climate. AWP is looking forward to having an impact in this space through advancing sustainable and climate-resilient water management in the region.

Featured image: Moderately flooded fields, near Ayutthaya, Thailand (September, 2018). Credit: Chamnong Thammasorn / Pakhai Irrigation and Water Management Project RID via Flickr (CC BY-NC)


References

International Universities Climate Alliance (IUCA) & UN-Water Expert Group on Water and Climate Change (2024) Water for Climate Mitigation: Estimating the Global Freshwater Requirements of Climate Mitigation Measures, The University of New South Wales (UNSW).
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1G7ZcPc7slhnwZJ8_FgNFwf1z87_uHcl1/view

Nationally Determined Contributions, available at: https://unfccc.int/NDCREG

Specifically referenced:

  • Timor-Leste 2022-2030
  • Vanuatu, 2022

Weinberg, J., Matthews, J., Mauroner, A., and Harpham, K. (2024). Understanding Indo-Pacific Climate Resilience: The Contribution of Water. Australian Water Partnership. https://waterpartnership.org.au/publications/indo-pac-resilience/

World Bank Country Climate and Development Reports, available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/country-climate-development-reports

Specifically referenced:

  • Indonesia, 2023
  • Pakistan, 2022

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