Windows on Resilience

Launch of New Tool at COP26 for Countries to Integrate Water Resilience into National Climate Plans

The Water Tracker for National Climate Planning has been developed as a tool to enhance water resilience in national climate plans. Kelsey Harpham from the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) reports.

Written by: Kelsey Harpham
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This is the sixth story in the Windows on Resilience series produced by CDKN and the Resilience Knowledge Coalition for the COP26 Resilience Hub – a physical and virtual space at COP26 dedicated to sharing best practice and building collaboration, momentum and new opportunities on adaptation and resilience. This story series shares practical and inspiring resilience solutions from communities and countries around the globe. Register for the Resilience Hub here.

In 2020, Malawi was forced to reduce the capacity of two major hydropower stations from 320 to 50 megawatts due to extreme flooding from megastorms in the region. Just a year later, a severe heatwave and prolonged dry weather in the western United States led to water levels dropping below intakes at several hydropower facilities around the region, forcing dramatic reductions in capacities and complete shutdown in some cases. In these scenarios, water is frequently viewed as source of climate risk – too much or too little water both resulting in disastrous consequences.    

Often far less considered is the critical role of water for successful climate change mitigation and adaptation actions. Understanding where and how water is embedded in climate action is necessary to avoid adverse outcomes, maladaptation, or outright project failure. Some countries, however, are leading the way to embrace the role of water in climate action. “Just like the rest of the world, Malawi is facing the challenge of climate change… Malawi has positioned the water sector as one of the solutions to climate change,” said Hon. Nancy Tembo, Malawi’s Minister of Forestry and Natural Resources.

As countries face serious strategic choices in how they address mitigation and build adaptation and resilience, being aware of where water is a critical resource for achieving national climate commitments is crucial for them to successfully implement their national climate plans. As the timing, quantity and quality of available water for implementing climate action becomes less predictable with climate change, competition for water increases and trade-offs between water users are likely to become more pronounced — for example, choosing between water for energy or food production.

Under the Adaptation Action Coalition’s water sector workstream, the Water Tracker for National Climate Planning has been developed as a tool to enhance water resilience in national climate plans. 

At the Petersburg Climate Dialogue event launching the Water Tracker in May 2021, Vice Minister Alue Dohong of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry of the Republic of Indonesia said: “Water is one of the basic necessities for human life and living beings, and is one of our priorities in building adaptive capacity and resilience to natural disaster and climate change.” 

The Water Tracker builds awareness of where water is a critical resource for achieving national climate commitments and effectively implementing adaptation actions. The message to countries is simple: For climate action to be effective, the role of water must be recognised.

How does the Water Tracker work, and where is it being applied?

The Water Tracker is a self-assessment questionnaire that includes a step-by-step series of targeted questions aimed at drawing out where water is embedded in climate plans. This includes considering the language and framing of water, i.e., water as a risk, sector, or resource; exploring the institutional and governance structures that exist for water management; and looking across sectors to analyse where water is needed for meeting sector goals included in national climate plans.

The Tracker has been developed through a collaborative process involving many international experts, including the Global Water PartnershipSanitation and Water for All, and UNICEF, and most critically — country partners. 

It is currently being piloted in an initial cohort of countries who are committed to enhancing water resilience in their national climate plans. These include Egypt, Costa Rica and Malawi, with additional countries being engaged over the coming months. The first version of the Water Tracker will be launched at COP26.

A complementary guidance document provides access to resources and tools that can be applied to address gaps identified by the Water Tracker — such as capacity building for increased institutional coordination and strategies for aligning programme and project development with financing partner priorities.

Water resilience connects the dots in national climate plans

National climate planning, including Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), has become a central focus of many countries’ efforts to address the increasingly severe impacts of climate change and meet Paris Agreement commitments.

The Water Tracker will provide guidance and support for developing these climate plans with a focus on building water resilience, an approach that recognises the cross-sectoral nature of water. Water resilience means ensuring that water management approaches are both flexible – able to change as needed – and robust – able to withstand a wide range of anticipated climate impacts. 

The Water Tracker guides climate planners to reflect on baseline water resilience across multiple sectors, and highlights where resilience needs particular attention.

As COP26 President Alok Sharma stated during the Petersberg Climate Dialogue: “The very fact that water is so fundamental to life means responsibility is split between many different areas of individual governments. Policies can suffer from a lack of integration, and are harder to fund as a result. The Tracker seeks to tackle those problems.”

Translating national climate plans to attract investment for project pipelines

Without access to climate finance and other sources of financing, reaching the objectives set out in national climate plans is often unattainable in many countries. Traditional climate finance has been directed at the portion of a project considered to go above the “business-as-usual” case to address climate mitigation or adaptation. By ensuring linkages between national-level climate plans and sub-national or sectoral projects, the Water Tracker is working to ensure financing that is more strategic and considers multi-sector connections. 

The Water Tracker will also facilitate a shared understanding between countries and funding institutions on the need for water resilience at the project level, and promote the alignment of national climate plans with financial institutions’ strategies, such as multilateral development bank country partnership strategies and regional initiatives. 

Funders can also use the Water Tracker as a benchmark to assess the credibility of projects and programmes. Meanwhile, countries can develop attractive proposals to funders by demonstrating how their plans and projects incorporate water resilience through the use of the Water Tracker questionnaire.

Financing institutions, including multilateral development banks and bilateral donors, are key partners in developing the Water Tracker. Involving these financial actors ensures a shared understanding of water resilience goals and builds more effective pipelines for financing climate change mitigation and adaptation programmes of work that account for water — now and into the future. 

How to get involved and meet us at COP26

If you would like to get involved in the Water Tracker, please reach out to Kelsey Harpham at the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation, kharpham@alliance4water.org. By engaging with the Adaptation Action Coalition’s Water Tracker, you will be ensuring a more connected and resilient future for your country, while also learning from and sharing experiences with other countries through peer-to-peer learning opportunities. Also find out more here.

To learn more about the Water Tracker and hear from pilot country representatives, join us for live events at COP26: 
Adaptation Action Coalition – Mobilizing Adaptation Action in Partnership
2 November at 17:00 GMT
COP Resilience Hub – register for the Hub here to follow online. 

Water for Adaptation: Showcasing results from the AAC water sector workstream
Water Pavilion
1 November at 16:00-17:00 GMT
Join the event online on the Water Pavilion website.