The Water Convention provides a global legal and intergovernmental framework for cooperation between countries on climate change adaptation in shared basins, which are home to more than 40% of the world’s population. Working together across borders is essential to strengthen resilience to water-related disasters including floods, droughts and storms, and helps access climate finance for adaptation efforts. The Water Convention helped to increase resilience to climate change in 5 major basins directly (Chu Talas, Dniester, Drin, Neman and North Western Sahara Aquifer System, with a total population of around 35 million persons). The Water Convention’s global network of basins working on climate change adaptation has supported 13 additional basins to implement transboundary adaptation measures, strengthen capacities, share knowledge and support basins in accessing finance for climate change adaptation.
However, increased commitments are needed in shared basins for climate change adaptation and to reduce climate-related disasters, according to the second reporting exercise for SDG indicator 6.5.2 on transboundary water resources management, supported by co-custodians UNECE and UNESCO. In 2020-2021, climate change adaptation is referred to in less than a half of responses among the tasks and activities of the joint bodies responsible for transboundary cooperation and as an area of cooperation under operational transboundary arrangements (47% and 43% respectively). Around 70% of responses included disaster risk reduction (with a focus on floods and droughts).
The UNECE-WHO/Europe Protocol on Water and Health can strengthen communities’ resilience to the effects of climate change, including water-related disasters linked to extreme weather events, and water scarcity. Activities focus on building awareness, evidence and capacities, while also helping to set national targets towards increasing resilience of water supply and sanitation services.
From road and rail networks to ports, airports and inland waterways, critical transport resources are facing unprecedented threats from a climate which is already changing. For instance, over 60% of EU seaports may be under high flood risk by 2100, causing disruptions to operations and damages to port infrastructure and vessels, especially along the North Sea coast, where the traffic of over 500 ports accounts for up to 15% of the world’s cargo transport. UNECE is leading pioneering work to map key risks and hotspots, and to build resilience of transport infrastructure and operations in the region by identifying the most suitable and cost-effective adaptation measures.
Increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events such as floods and heavy storms bring heightened risks of Natural Hazards Triggering Technological Disasters (called Natech accidents). The UNECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents helps countries to prevent such accidents and to prepare for and respond to them, should they occur, focusing on transboundary aspects. Support includes guidance development, capacity building and by contributing to projects and workshops. Words into Action guidelines on man-made/technological hazards, prepared together with other international organizations, contain a dedicated section on Natech risk reduction. Cross-sectoral guidance which addresses aspects on Natech risks has also been prepared under UNECE’s auspices, e.g. on land-use planning.
Together with the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, the two UNECE instruments provide a legal framework for addressing the risk of transboundary water pollution arising from industrial accidents, including those caused by Natech events. Their Joint Expert Group on Water and Industrial Accidents developed sector-specific guidance materials such as safety guidelines and good practices for oil terminals, pipelines and tailings management facilities. It also developed checklists, such as on transboundary contingency planning, and supports countries in their application.
To help local governments better withstand shocks and stresses, including in relation to climate change, UNECE – together with UN Regional Commissions, UN-Habitat and the UN Capital Development Fund – is supporting 16 cities globally to design, implement and monitor sustainable, resilient and inclusive COVID-19 economic and financial responses, recovery and rebuilding plans. In the UNECE Region these include Tirana (Albania), Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), and Kharkiv (Ukraine).