Water: Bend the Trend

PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency / Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving | 2023

This study The Geography of Future Water Challenges – Bending the trend shows that there is a great urgency to tackle global water and climate adaptation issues. This will require radical changes in the thinking about the value of water and in policy development worldwide, not only within the water sector itself, but also in adjacent sectors, such as agriculture, industry, energy, urban development, infrastructure and spatial planning, and nature.

The study concludes that required changes in policy development are necessary and comes with formulating nine critical and conditional steps to break away from business-as-usual approaches and really bend the trend, from a local to a global level:

Increase the level of urgency

  • Acknowledge the importance and pivotal role of water
  • Valuing water: broaden the scope
  • Start now, but plan way beyond 2030 and be adaptive

Innovate approaches

  • Let water be leading: adopt a river-basin and ecosystem-based approach
  • Envisioning the future: develop high ambition pathways
  • Improving policy coherence

Improve global governance

  • Strengthening global water governance and capacity
  • Scaling up funding for water and climate adaptation
  • Building a shared water agenda and process to create perspective

With a central role for water, the study explores pathways to reduce water and climate risks in four types of ‘hotspot landscapes’: river basins, deltas and coasts, drylands, and cities.

Water is linked to all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Addressing water- and climate-related challenges from a ‘water’ perspective is projected to contribute in many ways to the SDGs and thus to sustainable development, as this study shows.

In their 2022 report the IPCC concluded that the increasing climate risks require urgent attention and climate adaptation efforts worldwide, and that transformational approaches are needed yet hardly found. On page 14 the related risks are summarised.

Despite a growing world population, a growing economy and further climate change, the study shows that much can be accomplished with respect to reducing water use by households, industries and agriculture, the risk of flooding by rivers and the sea, and water pollution and ecological deterioration.

In addition, land subsidence in delta areas can be countered, food production in dryland areas can be doubled with half the water use, and the risk of local and cross-border conflict can be greatly reduced. A wicked sustainability problem is the construction of new dams; while contributing to the production of renewable energy, dams also have a negative impact on the hydrodynamics and sediment flows in rivers as well as on ecological quality.


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