Climate change most visible through freshwater lens | WWF

Climate change most visible through freshwater lens

Posted on 07 September 2010    
The Namib Desert's Welwitschia mirabilis plant can live for over 1,000 years.
© Frederick J. Weyerhaeuser / WWF
Stockholm, Sweden – The impacts of climate change are most visible in the dramatic changes occurring to the planet’s freshwater resources, says a new report written by WWF for the World Bank.

The report, Flowing Forward, finds both “visible” water such as rivers, lakes, precipitation, glaciers and snowpack, and water used for crops and livestock, health and sanitation services, hydroelectric and nuclear power as well as manufacturing and business are heavily influenced by climate change.

“The very language of climate change — droughts, floods, desertification, famines, tropical cyclones — is the language of water,” says WWF-US CEO Carter Roberts. “Flowing Forward defines the methodologies that are necessary to sustain healthy economies and healthy ecosystems through water. Water is what unites us. And good water management is the tool we need to sustain development in the face of climate change.”

Effective water resource management is central to adapting our economies and societies to emerging climate conditions. But the uncertainty surrounding our future climate poses a major challenge to engineers and policymakers, especially when developing long-term water infrastructure development strategies. Flowing Forward marks the first comprehensive set of tools to achieve climate-sustainable water management.

“We can’t wait another 30 years for predictions to tell us how climate change is affecting freshwater resources. The threats are being felt now. The World Bank needs climate adaptation decision-making techniques, and it needs them now,” says Julia Bucknall, Manager for the World Bank’s Energy, Transport and Water Department.

Flowing Forward recognizes that sustainability in water management has become a moving target, and this is now the biggest obstacle to implementing solutions to the impacts of climate change.

“We can no longer assume that what is sustainable now will remain sustainable in 10 years, much less 50. So a shifting climate means that the rules for water management must change too. Our current model of ‘sustainable development’ is threatened by climate change. Engineers, policymakers and resource managers need new tools to prepare for more extreme floods and droughts, and we believe that ecosystems are the best scorecard to see how our cities farms, and economies are adapting to climate change.” says co-author John Matthews of WWF-US.

“We need to design and operate dams, irrigation systems and energy production grids in ways that will help people and ecosystems adjust to emerging climate conditions together,” he adds.

But report co-author Tom Le Quesne from WWF-UK says the report’s most critical finding is that water managers and policymakers already have most of the important tools to cope with climate change in hand:

“The existing library of methods to manage river basins and water resources will go a long way in creating the conditions that will make our lakes, rivers and groundwater more sustainable. Our goal now is to help the water sector deploy tools that they already know work: environmental flows, Integrated Water Resource Management and the creation of monitoring networks.”

Further information:

For more information, please visit

Dr. John Matthews, Freshwater Climate Change Specialist, +1 202 203 8957

Gretchen Lyons, Manager, Conservation Communications, WWF International,,

+41 79 916 0136

The Namib Desert's Welwitschia mirabilis plant can live for over 1,000 years.
© Frederick J. Weyerhaeuser / WWF Enlarge

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