Transboundary water resources management and Cooperation in a changing climate

Transboundary water resources management and Cooperation in a changing climate


The 2015 Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and SDG 1351 both urge countries to collaborate on taking urgent action in combating climate change and its impacts,  including both mitigation and adaptation measures. As climate change is expected to alter the desired  and actual uses of water, it calls for adaptation measures in water resources management at the national, transboundary and regional scales. Types of adaptation measures include legislative and regulatory  instruments (e.g. laws, regulations and agreements based on international conventions), financial and  market instruments (e.g. licences, permits and taxes), education and informational instruments (e.g. public  awareness campaigns), policy instruments (e.g. intersectoral mechanisms for cooperation and agreement of  different sectoral policies, etc.), as well as structural (e.g. flood protection infrastructure) and non-structural  (e.g. information exchange and nature-based solutions such as wetland restoration) measures[1] In practice,  examples of adaptation measures can range from demand management strategies, including structural  changes in economy (e.g. shift to crops, sectors or technologies using less water), new technical standards  (e.g. best available techniques (BAT)), metering and pricing, and introducing other incentives for water-saving  and improving water-use efficiency, to trading of water rights[2] and ecosystem conservation and restoration.

Climate change poses the following specific challenges for transboundary IWRM, among others:

• increased uncertainty regarding the availability and variability of shared water resources;

• potentially unequal regional distribution in climate-change-induced effects and resulting impacts;

• changing water demands (e.g. agricultural water demands are sensitive to increase in


• resulting growing tensions, even in areas where transboundary interaction in the past has been

characterized by cooperation;

• worsening of water quality and dissemination of water-related diseases;

• increasing costs for water management, especially if there is a lack of transboundary and crosssectoral cooperation in prioritizing the adaptation measures.

At the same time, enhanced transboundary cooperation provides many benefits for climate change  adaptation. Benefits primarily come in the form of potential for joint climate and socioeconomic scenarios, vulnerability and impact assessments, disaster risk reduction strategies and response measures, reducing uncertainties through exchange of data, sharing costs and benefits, better prioritization of measures and improving/developing broader regional cooperation and dispute settlement mechanisms[3] Joint bodies  are central forums for developing and implementing adaptation strategies, but their operationalization lies with the member countries. Conversely, some national adaptation measures may have transboundary  impacts and thus require transboundary cooperation[4].

Transboundary water allocation in a changing climate

Climate change must be approached as a cross-cutting challenge for effective transboundary allocation.

It is a potential risk multiplier that may necessitate adjustment of existing—and careful drafting of any  new—transboundary water allocation agreements and arrangements. Ideally, transboundary allocation  arrangements should factor in the increased uncertainty, inter- and intraannual variability of precipitation, run-off and, in some cases, step reductions to cope with increasing frequency and extremity of drought and flood events. Measures such as adaptative capacity and flexibility can assist in addressing these issues, as outlined in Chapter V, section 6. Making transboundary allocation arrangements climate resilient also requires strong coordination mechanisms between different levels of governance, sectoral policies and  stakeholder groups[5]. They need to be aligned with climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts, taking into account the different water requirements of different energy options, such as hydropower, solar and across climate boundaries”,  wind power and biofuels[6].57 Renewable energy can drive sustainable water use and allocation and vice versa  when the synergies and trade-offs in the water-food-energy-ecosystem nexus are appropriately addressed[7]






To read the full chapter CHAPTER III: ISSUES WATER ALLOCATION CAN ADDRESS Please click on


[1] UNECE, Guidance on Water and Adaptation to Climate Change (Geneva, United Nations, 2009).

[2] UNESCO WWAP, The United Nations World Water Development Report 2020.

[3] UNECE and INBO (2015).

[4] UNECE, Guidance on Water and Adaptation to Climate Change (2009).

[5] See, generally, Garrick, Water Allocation in Rivers under Pressure (2015); John Matthews, “The test of time: finding resilience across climate boundaries”, in Green Growth and Water Allocation: Papers presented at a workshop held on 22–23 November 2012 in Wageningen, the Netherlands, Sophie Primot and others, eds. (n.p., Netherlands National Committee IHP-HWRP; Netherlands National Commission for UNESCO, 2013), p. 119–129

[6] UNECE and INBO (2015).

[7] UNECE, Towards Sustainable Renewable Energy Investment and Deployment: Trade-offs and Opportunities with Water Resources and the Environment, ECE Energy Series, No. 63 (Geneva, United Nations, 2020).


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