Water and Climate

The climate crisis is a water crisis. To tackle the climate crisis, we must understand how it is intrinsically linked to changes in the water cycle. We need to prepare ourselves for a future with more severe droughts and floods, with more unpredictable rainfall patterns and dramatically rising sea levels. Our best chance is to focus on smart, water-related solutions that build resilient societies and ecosystems whilst cutting greenhouse gas emissions and improving carbon storage. This is the next generation of climate solutions.


The race is on – by 2050, the world’s carbon emissions must be down to zero. But we are also in a race to resilience, where every society will need to reinvent itself to cope with the growing risks on a hotter planet. Luckily, there is a promising new generation of water-related climate solutions that can help us achieve both at the same time.

2021 will be a decisive year in the fight against climate change. Five years after the Paris agreement, we see a growing need for a new kind of climate debate, with a focus on cutting emissions but also on strengthening the resilience of both ecosystems and human societies.

To contribute, SIWI played an active part in the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021, 25-26 January, to raise awareness of how water-related climate solutions can help all sectors of society adapt to the increasingly more extreme and unpredictable weather patterns we must expect across the world.

To address the climate crisis effectively, it is important to understand that it is in many ways a water crisis. We experience global warming primarily in the form of increasingly damaging droughts and floods. Making societies and ecosystems more resilient is often a question of restoring the balance to the water cycle.

Interest is growing in nature-based solutions, improved management of water and landscapes, smarter city planning and a slew of other approaches that use water to tackle the climate crisis. Many of these solutions multi-task: they can, for example, simultaneously boost nature’s ability to store carbon, improve biodiversity, and help societies cope with extreme weather events. When the world is facing growing hunger, increased health threats and more frequent disasters, good water management offers a chance to reverse worrisome trends.

Learn more about SIWI’s work on water solutions to the climate crisis here.

This approach will be crucial in the coming years as the world rushes to slash carbon emissions in order to reach net-zero by 2050. The change is already underway, accelerated by new technology, the rapid expansion of renewable energy and a growing movement of committed countries, cities, and companies. In the past year, the number of net-zero commitments has doubled, according to a new report. A growing number of institutions also take The Leader’s Pledge for Nature to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.

SIWI works hard to raise awareness of the role water can play in tackling the climate crisis. On 12 November we co-hosted Water Day as part of the Race to Zero Dialogues, an initiative launched by two champions from the global climate summits COP25 and COP26. Here you can read outcomes of the day and you can also watch the presentations on youtube.

We will contribute to many other activities leading up to next climate summit COP26 – stay tuned for more updates!

Climate Adaptation Summit 25-26 January 2021

This 24-hour event highlighted the need to increase ambition on climate adaptation across a range of sectors, including water.

The summit consisted of several high-level segments addressing areas such as water, agriculture, nature-based solutions, and finance, showcasing solutions to our most immediate climate challenges, combining the knowledge and needs of different regions, sectors, generations, and communities. 

SIWI is a strong supporter of the Summit, and was involved in the following events:

Water Anchoring Event, 25 January 18.00 – 20.00 CET

Side Event: Sustainable Rivers and Deltas 4 Tomorrow

Side Event: Inspiring Wetskills Practices on Climate Adaptation

 Watch the Summit here!

The climate crisis is a water crisis. It is only when we realize this that we can come up with solutions that are effective enough to make a real difference. Here is what you need to know about water and climate.

The word “water” may not be what immediately springs to mind when you think about climate change – but it should be. The most dramatic effect of climate change is how it impacts the water cycle

This will play out in many different ways, all of them potentially dangerous:

Weirder weather and stranger seasons | Around the world, seasons and precipitation patterns (rain and snow) are getting more and more unpredictableputting ecosystems under pressure and making it increasingly difficult for people to access food and water. One example is how the monsoon system is becoming more erratic, which impacts food and water security for a quarter of the global population.

A sharp increase in disasters | Most extreme weather events are water-related, whether its floods, droughts or hurricanes. Changes to the water cycle could make such disasters both more frequent and more severePoor and vulnerable groups will suffer the mostwiping out decades of progress in reducing poverty.


Dangerously rising sea levels | The rapid melting of snow and ice, including retreating glaciers, is causing an alarming rise in sea levels. Many of the world’s most populous cities, such as Mumbai, Shanghai and New York, could eventually be underwater. New research indicates that the effect will be far more drastic than previously believed.

Parts of the Earth could become
uninhabitable |
 A combination of higher temperatures and an altered water cycle will put ecosystems and societies in many parts of the world under extreme stress.

A growing risk of tipping points | We have already surpassed several of the ecological thresholds mapped by science. Scientists fear tipping points, which is where processes spiral out of control – for example, thawing permafrost could release greenhouse gases to an extent that amplifies global warming. 

The common thread between these diverse threats is that they are all linked to impacts on the water cycle. These threats can only be managed if the delicate balance of the water cycle is restored. The climate crisis is a water crisis and must be treated as such. 

We choose what the world will look like in 2050!

Looming water and climate threats 

Food production falls by 30 per cent
Without adaptation, climate change may depress global agriculture yields by up to 30 per cent by 2050. Africa will be hit particularly hard since the continent is expected to get much drier while its population could almost double. The UN has recently warned that southern Africa is already in the throes of a climate emergency, with rapidly growing hunger. 

Sea-level rise threatens the world’s largest cities
By 2050, many of the world’s most populous cities will be below sea level. New research shows that this may impact three times as many people as previously believed. 

Megacities such as Mumbai (estimated to be the world’s largest city in 2050), Shanghai, Dhaka, Lagos, Tokyo and New York are all at risk. 

Weather extremes can become yearly events
Among the many shocking revelations in the 2019 IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate was the warning that disasters previously hitting mankind once in a century could have become a yearly occurrence by 2050. The report also noted that by 2050, one billion people are expected to live in low-lying coastal zones. 


… that could be solved 

Food production gets smart
Major investments in agriculture can help the world avoid a hunger crisis. By 2050, smallholder farmers in southern Africa could be more food secure through for example rainwater harvestingagroforestry and small-scale irrigation. New technologies and more research can help us develop robust crops and water-efficient solutions. 

Resilient cities rise above water levels
If we keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degreeswe can limit the damage from rising sea-levels – but a new approach to city planning is also needed. By 2050, all cities should be built to be resilient and make use of existing landscapes. Coral reefs, mangroves and wetlands can protect us from rising water levels. 

Extreme weather has reduced impact
By 2050, more people could survive disasters if we focus on boosting societies’ resilience. This includes better buildingsnew early-warning systems and smarter planning. Protect wetlands and let them buffer against floods and recharge groundwater, even during dry spells. Invest in wastewater treatment and safe sanitation so that people can cope with a growing number of diseases. 


A growing number of countries are turning to water-related solutions to cut and store carbon and boost resilience, but much more can be done. SIWI helps countries, cities and companies ratchet up their climate ambitions and actions by tapping the transformative potential of water. Here are ten powerful examples.

Good water governance |

On a hotter planet, we can expect intensified competition at the regional, national, and local level over increasingly scarce and unpredictable water resources. To cope with this, and even thrive, good water governance must be a key priority in a changing climate to ensure that water is protected for both people and nature to get their fair share. Societies need to place a higher value on water to encourage efficiency and reuse instead of waste and pollution.

SIWI’s experts provide policy advice to decision-makers as well as technical training to increase innovation and resilience across the water sector. We stress the role of indigenous knowledge, gender perspectives, and a human rights-based approach to ensure that water governance is more inclusive and effective.

Nature-based solutions |

Nature not only produces oxygen but helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, filter water, and protect against drought and flooding. The starting point in all urban and rural planning must be to assess which natural resources exist or have existed in the area and which functions and services they perform.

In today’s rapidly urbanizing world, cities are often expanded with little regard for how water will be recharged, how nature offers protection from natural disasters or how surrounding farmlands will be impacted. Many coastal cities have made themselves unnecessarily vulnerable by removing estuaries, deltas, and wetlands that could have offered protection from rising sea levels and flooding. SIWI advocates for increased use of water-centred nature-based solutions.

Preparing for the worst |

Globally, water-related disasters have accounted for almost 90 per cent of the 1,000 most devasting natural disasters since 1990. When preparing for a climate future where water-related disasters will become both more frequent and more severe, we must include more nature-based solutions and water expertise already at the planning stage.

In the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, water has been ranked among the top five risks in terms of impact every year since 2015, and almost all of the most-cited risks are strongly water-related.

Water-smart cities |

By 2050, there will be 2.5 billion more city-dwellers in the world. New cities must be planned, and existing cities retrofitted, to be more resilient to increasingly extreme weather disasters. Buildings should be built with water-efficient construction materials that allow for groundwater infiltration and equipped with energy-efficient sewage and wastewater treatment systems. Green zones and green infrastructure act as carbon sinks, recharge and filter water, and buffer against extreme weather.

A growing number of cities apply nature-based solutions, including making the protection of wetlands part of city planning. To ensure that urban residents have reliable and adequate access to clean water and safe sanitation, cities will require a lot of innovation and investments, with new solutions to reduce, reuse, and recycle water and wastewater resources. SIWI is a partner of the City Water Resilience Approach (CWRA) which offers a step-wise methodology to guide cities on how to develop urban water resilience, supported by a set of tools and resources.

Integrated landscape management |

Sustainable landscape management is essential for climate mitigation, as well as for food and water security, disaster risk reduction, and biodiversity. The water-forest-landscape dimension needs to be mainstreamed into decision-making at all levels so that we maintain vital ecosystems, restore degraded ecosystems, and use practices for agriculture and forestry that are sustainable in the long term. An important aspect of good water governance is to establish mechanisms for cooperation over shared water resources. SIWI offers leading expertise related to the water, forests, landscapes, and agriculture nexus.


Water-efficient agriculture |

Without adaptation, climate change may depress growth in global agriculture yields up to 30 per cent by 2050. The 500 million small farms around the world will be most affected. Agriculture is also a major water user and contributor to water pollution, which are other reasons why this is one of the most important water and climate challenges. In coming years, we need more research and investments in new crops, changed behaviour among consumers and farmers, improved irrigation, and adaptations to traditional methods such as rainwater harvesting and agroforestry. New technology could make it possible to reduce water use, for example through precision farming.

SIWI’s senior advisors Professor Malin Falkenmark and Professor Jan Lundqvist are among the world’s leading thinkers on water and agriculture and the organization has a strong track record for innovative work on water and food.

A source-To-sea approach |

In the past few years, scientists have gained a much better understanding of the role of oceans and water in the climate system; and this must now be transformed into action. Since almost all marine pollution comes from land-based sources, the focus should be on improving wastewater treatment and imposing stricter control of nutrient leakage from agriculture. Protecting and restoring ecosystems such as estuaries, deltas, and wetlands are of crucial importance to limit the risks of inundation and saltwater intrusion. Since these challenges are interlinked, we need a new kind of governance system to address them. SIWI has developed the source-to-sea methodology to address climate change by improved dialogue and cooperation amongst different actors and sectors in order to reduce governance fragmentation and address complex interlinkages, cascading effects, and uncertainties.

Transboundary Co-operation |

Countries sharing a freshwater resource – a transboundary river, lake, or aquifer – will be less vulnerable to climate risks if they cooperate to share knowledge and data, improve food security, energy production, access to water, and protection of the environment. SIWI supports these processes where water diplomacy, knowledge-sharing, transparency and open data are important tools. With increasing water stress, it is important to work more actively with climate-smart security.

Integrated Water and finance |

The business sector’s engagement is crucial to making the world carbon neutral by 2050 and to make that happen, investors must be able to analyze and calculate water risks in their portfolios. SIWI’s Swedish Water House supports this through a cluster group on sustainable finance.

Water and nationally determined contributions |

As demonstrated by these examples, water offers numerous opportunities to address both the causes and impacts of climate change. At the same time, it contributes to meeting several of the Sustainable Development Goals laid out in the 2030 Agenda, such as reducing hunger, improving health, reaching gender equality, protecting land-based and underwater ecosystems and improving access to water and sanitation. But to unleash the full potential of water-related solutions they must be planned for and integrated into countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) under the Paris Agreement. A growing number of countries turn to SIWI’s and UNDP’s Water Governance Facility for policy and technical advice on how to do this successfully.


To tackle the climate crisis effectively, more people must understand that it is a water crisis. Here’s what you can do.


Knowledge is essential. Sign up to SIWI’s newsletter, to get new knowledge, follow the debate and be inspired by creative solutions from around the world. 


The 2020 UN World Water Development Report looks at the complex interlinkages between water and climate. SIWI’s Maggie White and Marianne Kjellén from UNDP are two of the contributors.  

World Water Day |

In 2020 World Water Day was on 22 March. Due to global events, we postponed our celebration of it until the hydrological new year: 30 September 2020. We hosted a day of discussion with water experts focusing on the role of water in climate change both on a national and international scale.

Watch Event [in Swedish]:

Regarding Water and Climate ? Please contact us.
The Climate Action Summit is a 24-hour event 25-26 January 2021. It highlighted the need to increase ambition on climate adaptation across a range of sectors, including water. SIWI is a strong supporter of the Summit and played an important role in the water-related events.

SIWI at the Climate Adaptation Summit!

SIWI is a strong supporter of the Summit, and was involved in the following events:

Water Anchoring Event, 25 January 18.00 – 20.00 CET 

 The Water Anchoring Event will promote water’s role as a connector to safeguard a sustainable and resilient future for all, everywhere. It will showcase projects and best practices for water resilience, address how water can be included in National Adaptation Plans and Nationally Determined Contributions, as well as emphasize the need to accelerate and scale up actions to adapt to climate change through water solutions.

Speakers included: 

Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director, SIWI

Carolina Schmidt, Minister of the Environment, Chile

Dorin Andros, State Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Regional Development, and the Environment, Moldova

Peter Thomson, UNSG Special Envoy for the Ocean

Nigel Topping, High-Level Champion for COP26

Side Event: Sustainable Rivers and Deltas 4 Tomorrow 

Rivers and deltas are key systems that form the arteries of the earth, support the welfare of billions of people and are hotspots of climate risks and sustainable development. How we manage river basins and their deltas and invest in water management, adaptation, agriculture, infrastructure and urban development will determine the future lives of billions of people and the quality of our aquatic ecosystems from the mountains to the sea. This side event will discuss the importance of rivers and deltas, and how post-Covid-19 investment decisions can be used to accelerate climate-resilient and sustainable development in this area.

Watch here

Speakers include:

Maggie White, Senior Manager, SIWI

Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, The Netherlands

Monika Weber-Fahr, Chief Operation Manager, World Bank

Side Event: Inspiring Wetskills Practices on Climate Adaptation

Wetskills Foundation and some of its Alumni present and discuss some inspiring out-of-the-box ideas with a focus on Climate Adaptation and the role of water.

Watch here

The Climate Adaptation Summit is an important international event on 25-26 January to raise awareness of the role of adaptation to tackle the dangerous consequences of global warming. Learn more about it here.

What is the Climate Adaptation Summit?

It is a 24-hour event on 25-26 January hosted by the government of the Netherlands and the Global Center on Adaptation. The aim is to raise awareness of how we can adapt to the more extreme climate on a hotter planet.

The summit will consist of several high-level segments addressing areas such as water, agriculture, nature-based solutions, and finance, showcasing solutions to our most immediate climate challenges, combining the knowledge and needs of different regions, sectors, generations, and communities.

Who can attend the Summit?

Anyone can attend, free of charge – register here! The full programme can be found on the Climate Adaptation Summit website.

What will happen at the Summit?

The Summit will launch a comprehensive Adaptation Action Agenda that sets out clear commitments to deliver concrete new endeavours and partnerships to make our world more resilient to the effects of climate change.

The event will explore different action themes, including water. Since climate change is most often felt in the form of too much, too little or too dirty water, climate adaptation can only be achieved through water solutions. 

What is the Water Anchoring Event?

The Water Anchoring Event will focus on water’s role in adaptation, with speakers such as Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director, SIWI; Carolina Schmidt, Minister of the Environment, Chile; Dorin Andros, State Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Regional Development, and the Environment, Moldova; Peter Thomson, UNSG Special Envoy for the Ocean and Nigel Topping, High-Level Champion for COP26.