Why we need to talk about climate when we talk about water

Climate change is threatening water security as we experience changes in the water cycle, including floods and droughts. At the same time, water systems such as permafrost and wetlands emit greenhouse gases, and climate change mitigation actions such as alternative water and energy sources depend on and impact freshwater. Sustainable water management can support governments, communities and industries to build climate resilience.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the window of opportunity to mitigate and adapt to climate change is narrowing and we need enablers and catalysers to achieve climate-resilient development. Water is a strong enabler and catalyser as the water cycle is critical to both mitigation and adaptation actions.  Effective water management can also support governments, communities and industries to build climate resilience. When we talk about actions that support water for development work, we also must refer to climate action.

Climate change impacts have direct and indirect costs both in the short and long term. In addition to the negative impacts on physical and mental health and wellbeing, the degradation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems is causing biodiversity decline, species extinction and loss of related livelihoods, all of which are causing setbacks across the sustainable development goals.

Key risks of climate change are already causing severe adverse consequences for natural and social systems. In the Pacific, more than 616,000 people from 17 Pacific countries were displaced between 2008 and 2019 as a result of 97 disaster events[1] such as cyclones and flooding. Between 2000 and 2019, the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters Emergency Events Database recorded 7,348 disasters, which resulted in US$82 billion in economic losses from Oceania[2].

Climate change impacts can be reduced through adaptation responses, although there are also limits to this adaptation in reducing losses and damages. We need to understand development risks such as maladaptation, rising emissions, and unsustainable development action. The effectiveness of adaptation to reduce climate risk has not been assessed, but there is increasing evidence of maladaptation elevating or creating climate risks.

On the other hand, certain adaptation responses—such as changes to agricultural practices and land use management—are showing co-benefits for mitigation and other societal goals. Ecosystem stewardship, knowledge diversity, equity and inclusion have been identified as dimensions that will enable actions towards climate-resilient development.

The Australian Water Partnership’s vision to enhance sustainable water management in the Indo-Pacific and beyond has expanded to explicitly consider climate resilience. Many activities developed in response to Indo-Pacific partners’ needs are affected by and are addressing climate change (such as the development of basin plans and water legislation).

AWP-supported activities aim to improve policies, practices and tools incorporating gender equity, disability and social inclusion. AWP’s vision will continue to be implemented with support from 236 Australian water experts and International Partners using a more explicit climate lens.

Some examples of how AWP-supported activities address climate change include:

  • The Water Efficiency Improvement in Drought Affected Provinces in Vietnam, which addresses water, food and energy security risks through water use efficiency and water resource management;
  • Valuing the contribution of nature-based solutions to integrated urban flood management in Thailand and Vietnam, addressing future infrastructure investment strategies that support sustainable urban water management and ecosystem services.
  • Technical support on surface water hydrology to Pacific Islands, which aims to improve flash flood early warning systems and reduce impacts on living standards, human health and mobility.

Australian water organisations have also demonstrated how to cooperate across sectors to cut emissions drastically and quickly.  For example, applying a circular economy approach in wastewater management, reducing non-revenue water, improving agriculture and water management, or integrating nature-based solutions into water infrastructure.

It is also important to recognise thousands of years of Indigenous knowledge, which has coped with disturbances, adapted to changing conditions and transformed to live in the western world.

AWP is collecting Water and Climate stories to showcase how the Australian water sector is taking climate action in Australia and the Indo-Pacific region. We will be profiling stories of how the Australian water sector is taking climate action in Australia and the Indo-Pacific region. The stories will cover adaptation, mitigation and cross-sectoral integration, and contribute to demonstrating Australia’s efforts towards international commitments. If you are interested in contributing, join the Sharing Water and Climate Stories online dialogue series commencing August 2022.

[1] Pacific Resilience Partnership (2021) PowerPoint Presentation (

[2] The human cost of disasters: an overview of the last 20 years (2000-2019) | UNDRR

Feature image: Tsunami damage in the Solomon Islands, 2007. Photo by AusAID
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