Water and climate change: time to adapt


ICPDR Danube Watch: The ICPDR in the spotlight

Danube Watch 1 2007

Water and climate change: time to adapt

Climate change impacts on global water resources will affect our lives and economies. Successfully adapting water management to these impacts is absolutely necessary to mitigate the adverse effects of this development.

a group of people sitting in chairs

The symposium brought together 250 participants from 24 EU Member States, including Francisco Nunes Correia, Minister for the Environment, Spatial Planning and Regional Development of Portugal; Sigmar Gabriel, Federal Environment Minister of Germany and Peter Mogens Carl, Director-General Environment.

“There is no longer need for debating whether or not climate change is happening. The challenge is in slowing our contribution to that change – mitigation – and ensuring adaptation where we can.” – sigmar gabriel, german federal Minister for the environment, Nature conservation and Nuclear safety.

It is hard to imagine a river with a volume 20 times that of the With these words, the Environment Minister opened the symposium, ‘Time to Adapt – Climate Change and the European Water Dimension’, organised jointly by the German Environment Ministry and the EU Commission’s Directorate-General Environment as a conference within the framework of the German EU Presidency. Over 250 participants from EU Member States (including Danube countries Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Romania and Slovenia) gathered in Berlin in early February to discuss the impact of climate change on the water regime.

Europe’s changing climate. During the last century, temperatures have shown a relatively uniform increase of 0.95 °C across Europe (EEA Report, 2004). Mean annual precipitation levels have exhibited distinct regional differences, however – increasing in northern Europe by 10-40%, and decreasing in some areas of central Europe and the Mediterranean region by up to 20%.

According to most model predictions, countries in the Danube Basin will see more changes in the region’s distribution of water in the future. Northern or upstream countries will experience more precipitation, with particular emphasis on winter precipitation. Southern or downstream countries would experience less precipitation, but more extreme events.


Taking the first steps. Adapting water management to the impacts of climate change is a top priority, and a fundamental aim of the symposium was to draw up comprehensive recommendations for designing an adaptation process for water management in Europe. Existing rules and regulations on the European level provide a solid basis for developing water-related adaptation measures. A common, integrated approach with an extensive exchange between countries, stakeholders and the public is necessary for successful adaptation.

Where the ICPDR can play a role is in finding a mechanism to analyse climate change models on the basin- wide level to determine what the changes will mean to the Danube. “The ICPDR alone cannot stop climate change”, says Philip Weller, Executive Secretary of the ICPDR. “Our job is to recognise what it may mean for water management and to develop strategies and be prepared to respond.” The ICPDR’s Flood Expert Group is one place where scenarios can be developed and discussed to allow countries to adapt to climate change.

A framework for change. The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) provides a valuable structure for introducing climate change impacts into water resources management and river basin planning. It offers the opportunity to better assess impacts on the water regime and can coordinate not only the demand for water in various sectors but also their capacity for supporting water management adaptation.

The impacts on climate change should be taken into consideration for WFD implementation as an extra pressure on water resources. The necessary additional measures should be incorporated gradually into the programmes of measures – possibly during the first planning cycle in 2009. Only by adapting activities to climate change now can measures be selected which will also be sustainable, effective and cost-efficient under changing conditions.

The implications of climate change for the ICPDR and for Danube countries are significant. “The overall work of the ICPDR need not be completely overhauled,” says Fritz Holzwarth, Deputy Director General of the German Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and Head of the German Delegation to the ICPDR, “but all the actions we undertake as part of the programme of measures must be done with acknowledgement and consideration of climate change”.

Bringing ideas together. The results of the symposium „Time to Adapt – Climate Change and the European Water Dimension“ were presented at the Environment Council on 20 February 2007. They will be incorporated into many measures both on the national and the European level (e.g. the Green Paper on adaptation to climate change and the Communication on water scarcity and drought). It is expected that important impetus will be given for research activities under the Seventh Research Framework Programme with climate change as one of the key topics.

All documents of the symposium, including the soon to be published symposium report, are available at:

Thomas Stratenwerth is head of the Division General, Fundamental, International and European Aspects of Water Management at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.
Corinna Hornemann works for the Federal Environment Agency at the section General Aspects of Water Quality and Management, Groundwater Protection.