IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

3.7 Conclusions: implications for sustainable development

Most of the seven Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are related directly or indirectly to water management and climate change, although climate change is not directly addressed in the MDGs. Some major concerns are presented in Table 3.6 (UNDP, 2006).

Table 3.6. Potential contribution of the water sector to attain the MDGs.

Goals  Direct relation to water Indirect relation to water 

Goal 1:

Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger


Water as a factor in many production activities (e.g., agriculture, animal husbandry, cottage industry)

Sustainable production of fish, tree crops and other food brought together in common property resources


Reduced ecosystem degradation improves local-level sustainable development

Reduced urban hunger by means of cheaper food from more reliable water supplies


Goal 2:

Achieve universal education



Improved school attendance through improved health and reduced water-carrying burdens, especially for girls


Goal 3:

Promote gender equity and empower women


Development of gender sensitive water management programmes


Reduce time wasted and health burdens from improved water service leading to more time for income earning and more balanced gender roles


Goal 4:

Reduce child mortality


Improved access to drinking water of more adequate quantity and better quality, and improved sanitation reduce the main factors of morbidity and mortality of young children



Goal 6:

Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and

other diseases


Improved access to water and sanitation support HIV/AIDS-affected households and may improve the impact of health care programmes

Better water management reduces mosquito habitats and the risk of malaria transmission



Goal 7:

Ensure environmental sustainability


Improved water management reduces water consumption and recycles nutrients and organics

Actions to ensure access to improved and, possibly, productive eco-sanitation for poor households

Actions to improve water supply and sanitation services for poor communities

Actions to reduce wastewater discharge and improve environmental health in slum areas


Develop operation, maintenance, and cost recovery system to ensure sustainability of service delivery


In many regions of the globe, climate change impacts on freshwater resources may affect sustainable development and put at risk, for example, the reduction of poverty and child mortality. Even with optimal water management, it is very likely that negative impacts on sustainable development cannot be avoided. Figure 3.8 shows some key cases around the world where freshwater-related climate change impacts are a threat to the sustainable development of the affected regions.

Figure 3.8

Figure 3.8. Illustrative map of future climate change impacts on freshwater which are a threat to the sustainable development of the affected regions. 1: Bobba et al. (2000), 2: Barnett et al. (2004), 3: Döll and Flörke (2005), 4: Mirza et al. (2003) 5: Lehner et al. (2005a) 6: Kistemann et al. (2002). Background map: Ensemble mean change of annual runoff, in percent, between present (1981 to 2000) and 2081 to 2100 for the SRES A1B emissions scenario (after Nohara et al., 2006).

‘Sustainable’ water resources management is generally sought to be achieved by Integrated Water Resources Management. However, the precise interpretation of this term varies considerably. All definitions broadly include the concept of maintaining and enhancing the environment, and in particular the water environment, taking into account competing users, instream ecosystems, and wetlands. Also, wider environmental implications of water management policies, such as implications for land management, or the implications of land management policies for the water environment, are considered. Water and land governance are important components of managing water in order to achieve sustainable water resources for a range of political, socio-economic and administrative systems (GWP, 2002; Eakin and Lemos, 2006).

Energy, equity, health, and water governance are key issues when linking climate change and sustainable development. However, few studies on sustainability have explicitly incorporated the issue of climate change (Kashyap, 2004). Some studies have taken into account the carbon footprint attributable to the water sector. For example, desalination can be regarded as a sustainable water management measure if solar energy is used. Many water management actions and adaptations, particularly those involving pumping or treating water, are very energy-intensive. Their implementation would affect energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and energy policy could affect their implementation (Mata and Budhooram, 2007). Examples of potential inequities occur where people benefit differently from an adaptation option (such as publicly funded flood protection) or where people are displaced or otherwise adversely impacted in order to implement an adaptation option (e.g., building a new reservoir).

Mitigation measures that reduce greenhouse gas emissions lessen the impacts of climate change on water resources. The number of people exposed to floods or water shortage and potentially affected is scenario-dependent. For example, stabilisation at 550 ppm (resulting in a temperature increase relative to pre-industrial levels of nearly 2°C) only reduces the number of people adversely affected by climate change by 30-50% (Arnell, 2006).