2021 State of Climate Services: Water

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Executive Summary

In 2018, the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement at the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) called on the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) through its Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) to regularly report on the state of climate services with a view to “facilitating the development and application of methodologies for assessing adaptation needs”.

Water is a top adaptation priority.

In 2018, 2.3 billion people were living in countries under water stress1,2 and 3.6 billion people faced inadequate access to water at least one month per year. By 2050, the latter is expected to be more than five billion.3 Assuming a constant population, an additional 8% of the world’s population in the 2000s will be exposed to new or aggravated water scarcity4 associated with a 2°C of global warming.5 Concurrent population growth would further increase this number.

Human- and naturally-induced stressors are increasingly adding pressure on water resources, a key prerequisite for human development. In the past 20 years, terrestrial water storage – the summation of all water on the land surface and in the subsurface, including soil moisture, snow and ice – has been lost at a rate of 1cm per year. The situation is worsening by the fact that only 0.5% of water on Earth is useable and available freshwater.

Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is vital to achieving long-term social, economic and environmental well-being. But, although most countries have advanced their level of IWRM implementation, 107 countries remain off track to hit the goal of sustainably managing their water resources by 2030,6 as set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goal No. 6 (SDG 6). In 2020, 3.6 billion people lacked safely managed sanitation services, and 2.3 billion lacked basic hygiene services. The current rates of progress need to quadruple in order to reach the global target of universal access by 2030.7,8 Meanwhile, water-related hazards have increased in frequency for the past 20 years. Since 2000, flood-related disasters have increased by 134%, compared with the two previous decades.9 Most of the flood-related deaths and economic losses were recorded in Asia, where end-to-end warning systems for riverine floods require strengthening in many countries. The number and duration of droughts also increased by 29%. Most drought-related deaths occurred in Africa, indicating a need to continue strengthening end-to-end warning systems for drought.

The good news is that nations are determined to improve the situation. According to UNFCCC, water is an adaptation priority in 79% of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement.10 And not only is water among the highest priority sectors across all NDCs, it is a cross-cutting factor affecting adaptation in the majority of sectors.

**The state of play *

To reduce adverse impacts associated with water-related disasters and support water resource management decisions and improved outcomes, climate services and end-to-end early warning systems, as well as sustainable investments, are required but not yet adequate. In the NDCs (submitted as of August 2021), Parties highlighted the need for strengthening the climate services value chain across its constituent components – including observing systems, data and data management, better forecasting, strengthening of weather services, climate scenarios, projections, and climate information systems.

Of the Parties that mention water as a top priority in their updated NDCs, the majority highlight actions that relate to capacity building (57%), forecasting (45%), observing networks (30%), and data collection (28%). However, 60% of National Hydrological Services (NHSs) – the national public agencies mandated to provide basic hydrological information and warning services to the government, the public, and the private sector – lack the full capacities needed to provide climate services for water.

The WMO assessment in this report found, for WMO Member countries (101) for which data are available, that:

• There is inadequate interaction among climate services providers and information users in 43% of WMO Members;

• Data is not collected for basic hydrological variables in approximately 40% of WMO Members;

• Hydrological data is not made available in 67% of WMO Members;

• End-to-end riverine flood forecasting and warning systems are absent or inadequate in 34% of WMO Members that provided data – with only 44% of Members’ existing systems reaching more than two-thirds of the population at risk;

• End-to-end drought forecasting and warning systems are lacking or inadequate in 54% of WMO Members that provided data – with only 27% of Members’ existing systems reaching more than two-thirds of the population at risk.
Achieving the adaptation objectives in developing countries’ NDCs will require significant additional financial commitments. Yet, several constraints limit countries’ capacity to access financing, including low capacities for developing and implementing projects, and difficulties to absorb resources within low-income countries’ public financial systems. Despite a 9% increase in financial pledges made to tackle SDG 6, official development assistance (ODA) commitments remained stable at US$ 8.8 billion, despite increased funding needs to meet targets under the SDG6 – between 2015 and 2019.

Recommendations Based on its findings, the report makes six strategic recommendations to improve the implementation and effectiveness of climate services for water worldwide:

  1. Invest in Integrated Resources Water Management as a solution to better manage water stress, especially in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs);

  2. Invest in end-to-end drought and flood early warning systems in at-risk LDCs, including for drought warning in Africa and flood warning in Asia;

  3. Fill the capacity gap in collecting data for basic hydrological variables which underpin climate services and early warning systems;

  4. Improve the interaction among national level stakeholders to co-develop and operationalize climate services with information users to better support adaptation in the water sector. There is also a pressing need for better monitoring and evaluation of socio-economic benefits, which will help to showcase best practices;

  5. Fill the gaps in data on country capacities for climate services in the water sector, especially for SIDS;

  6. Join the Water and Climate Coalition11 to promote policy development for integrated water and climate assessments, solutions and services, and benefit from a network of partners that develop and implement tangible, practical projects, programs and systems to improve hydroclimate services for resilience and adaptation.