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Part 4

Bending the trend exploring global pathways

Bending the trend towards 2050

The good news is that we can bend the trend if we change the way we manage our rivers and deltas, and our terrestrial water and groundwater resources. Aiming at sustainable development and working together towards achieving the same goals, on all levels and scales, is key.

More information on the impact of interventions and climate change on sediment transport and morphology:

The Rhine River case

Shifting values and approaches based on sdgs

As also stated in the section on Rivers and Deltas: hotspot landscapes, the widely accepted SDGs can be used as a shared framework to inspire transformational approaches across scales. Acknowledging the set of SDGs as relevant for sustainable development stimulates a wider and more inclusive approach in any sectoral development strategy, plan or project. Working in this direction can bend the trend towards a more sustainable and more climate-resilient world, using the SDGs as an inspiration for the development of policies, plans, investments and projects, and as a shared multi-criteria evaluation framework to evaluate the contribution of policies, plans and projects to sustainable development.

Tools for exploring future pathways and impacts

The section on Understanding the System shows a wide range of current and future challenges under a business-as-usual scenario. Two preliminary tools provide examples to explore more sustainable future pathways:

Reducing nutrient emissions

The challenge:

The section on Projected trends shows that, under a business-as-usual scenario, a total global increase in nutrient emissions of 25% from agriculture and urban areas (households) is projected for 2050; emissions from households will almost double, and those from agriculture will increase by 10%. Hotspots of the increase in nutrient emissions are South and East Asia, parts of Africa, and Central and Latin America.

The links to the SDGs:

Nutrient emissions are linked to many SDGs. The emission of too many nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) to rivers, lakes, deltas and coastal seas has, for instance, a negative impact on water quality (SDG 6), the ecological quality of fresh water ecosystems (SDG 15) and coastal seas (SDG 14), and may adversely affect human health (SDG 3) and economic sectors, such as fisheries, aquaculture, and tourism (SDGs 1 and 8).

How is the human impact on rivers and deltas affecting achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals?

SDG Wheel -->

This illustration shows the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Colours indicate the extent to which the human impact on rivers and deltas has affected achievement of these SDGs. For each SDG the human impact and how it affects achievement of the SDG is elaborated in the text. Currently, the impact is negative for 8 of the SDGs and very negative for 5. For four of them, the impact is both positive and negative.

Various combinations of measures in agriculture or urban areas can be made to reduce nutrient emissions. In agriculture, the level of fertiliser use could be adjusted. In urban areas, different wastewater treatment methods could be applied to reduce nutrient emissions to rivers, deltas and coastal seas.

How To Reduce Nutrient Emissions?

Combine measures and visualise the impact
of nutrient load to coastal seas

In million tonnes/year

40.5
Gauge

Measure 1: Waste water

For urban areas, choose the type
of wastewater treatment:

Measures 2 and 3

In agriculture, buffer zones and the use of fertiliser can be adjusted:

Sustainable use of fertilisers

Buffer
zones

This infographic is a tool that visualises the impact of a number of measures (which can be selected by the user) on reducing nutrient emissions, globally, by 2050. The selection options includes three types of measures: the type of wastewater treatment to be implemented in the river basin, the choice of whether or not a sustainable use of fertiliser is implemented, and whether or not buffer zones in agriculture are implemented.

Two pathways and their contributions to the sdgs

There are numerous strategies and measures to reduce the emission of nutrients to rivers, lakes and coastal waters. As examples, we present the effects of two possible pathways: a business-as-usual scenario with a low ambition level of only secondary wastewater treatment in urban areas, and a high ambition level with its focus on urban areas, agriculture and nature-based solutions (buffer zones).

The example of the low ambition pathway appears to be more or less the same as the business-as-usual scenario without measures. Along this pathway, nutrient emissions from both urban areas and agriculture will increase by 24% compared to current levels, resulting in increasing negative effects on the quality and biodiversity of fresh water ecosystems and coastal seas. Contributions to many SDGs are negative, for instance SDG 6 Clean water, SDG 3 Good Health and well-being, SDG 14 Life under water, and SDG 15 Life on land/fresh water biodiversity.

This scenario also lacks contributions to SDG 11 Sustainable urban areas and communities, and SDG 10 Reduced inequalities. Compared to the current situation, little progress will be made in terms of SDG 16 Strong institutions and SDG 17 Partnerships for the goals.

How is the human impact on rivers and deltas affecting achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals?

SDG Wheel -->

This illustration shows the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Colours indicate the extent to which the human impact on rivers and deltas has affected achievement of these SDGs. For each SDG the human impact and how it affects achievement of the SDG is elaborated in the text. Currently, the impact is negative for 8 of the SDGs and very negative for 5. For four of them, the impact is both positive and negative.

In the example of a high ambition pathway, tertiary wastewater treatment is implemented to achieve urban emission reductions, and a sustainable use of fertilisers in agriculture in combination with effective buffer zones to reduce agricultural emissions.

These measures are projected to achieve a 26% reduction in emissions by 2050, compared to the level under a business-as-usual scenario without measures, and an 8% reduction compared to current nutrient emission levels. The high ambition pathway is projected to contribute positively to many SDGs. The reduced emissions and implementation of buffer zones along rivers contribute significantly to SDG 6 Clean Water, SDG 3 Health and well-being, and SDGs 14 and 15 Life under Water and Life on land, including aquatic ecosystems. The organisation and implementation of a high ambition pathway requires strong institutions (SDG 16) and effective partnerships for the goals across domains and scales (SDG 17).

How is the human impact on rivers and deltas affecting achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals?

SDG Wheel -->

This illustration shows the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Colours indicate the extent to which the human impact on rivers and deltas has affected achievement of these SDGs. For each SDG the human impact and how it affects achievement of the SDG is elaborated in the text. Currently, the impact is negative for 8 of the SDGs and very negative for 5. For four of them, the impact is both positive and negative.

Reducing the risks of flooding

The challenge:

Under a business-as-usual scenario, the number of people annually exposed to river flooding, globally, will increase by 65% to 108 million a year by 2050. The annual urban damage is expected to increase from USD 157 billion in 2010 to USD 1,147 billion a year by 2050 (632%). The number of people annually exposed to coastal flooding will increase by 124% to 13.7 million a year by 2050 and the annual urban damage will increase from USD 20 billion to USD 266 billion a year by 2050 (1,254%). South and East Asia, and to a minor extent Sub-Saharan Africa, are hotspots of numbers of people at risk of river and coastal flooding. Hotspots of expected annual economic damage by river and coastal flooding will shift from the developed countries in 2010 to South and East Asia by 2050.

The links to the SDGs:

Flooding has strong links with many of the SDGs. Flooding events, for instance, lead to loss of life and economic damage, increases in waterborne diseases, buildings being destroyed, and the disruption of critical infrastructure for water and food supply and transport, all linked to SDGs 1, 2, 3, 8 and 11. In many countries, people living in formal and informal urban settlements are unequally exposed to flood risks (SDG 10). Adequate adaptation to climate change in flood risk strategies (SDG 13) is of great importance to increase the resilience to flooding. Using nature-based solutions in adaptation strategies can support the ecological quality of fresh water and coastal ecosystems (SDGs 15 and SDG 14, respectively).

How is the human impact on rivers and deltas affecting achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals?

SDG Wheel -->

This illustration shows the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Colours indicate the extent to which the human impact on rivers and deltas has affected achievement of these SDGs. For each SDG the human impact and how it affects achievement of the SDG is elaborated in the text. Currently, the impact is negative for 8 of the SDGs and very negative for 5. For four of them, the impact is both positive and negative.

There are several ways to reduce the risks related to river or coastal flooding. Possibilities include adjusting the protection levels for the population or economic growth, or for the effects of climate change or soil subsidence. Strategies include using technical infrastructure (levees) or nature-based solutions (combinations of foreshore flats and vegetation). In this example, four measures can be selected.

How To Reduce Flood Risk?

Select a level of protection to visualise its impact:

This infographic is a tool that visualises the impact of a number of measures (which can be selected by the user) on the reduction in river or coastal flood risk, globally, by 2050. Four levels of flood protection can be selected: no change in flood protection since 2010, adaptation of flood protection to the changing climate, a flood defence system designed for a once-in-a-hundred-year flood, and an extra high level of flood protection for urban areas.

Two pathways and their contributions to the sdgs

There are numerous strategies and measures to reduce the risks of river and coastal flooding. Examples include the projected effects of two potential pathways: a business-as-usual scenario in which flood protection is adapted to the changing climate, such that flood probability stays the same from 2010 to 2050, and an SDG-inspired integrated high ambition pathway with substantial higher protection standards, additional protection of urban areas and using nature-based solutions and water-resilient spatial development. These examples only include strategies and measures about the number of people exposed to river flood risk, on a global level.

Without any adjustments to current flood protection, the combined effect of climate change and socio-economic developments would increase the projected number of people annually exposed to river flooding by 104%, by 2050. Adjusting the protection standards to climate change (but not to socio-economic changes) would mean an annual increase of 65%. This is the low ambition pathway in the flood risk example. It illustrates that, compared to climate change, projected socio-economic changes contribute more to the increases in the number of people exposed to river flooding.

Along this pathway, SDG 13 Climate action colours green, but as flood risk still strongly increases as a result of socio-economic developments, there is little or no contribution to other SDGs, reflecting the generally too low protection levels in many regions of the world.

How is the human impact on rivers and deltas affecting achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals?

SDG Wheel -->

This illustration shows the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Colours indicate the extent to which the human impact on rivers and deltas has affected achievement of these SDGs. For each SDG the human impact and how it affects achievement of the SDG is elaborated in the text. Currently, the impact is negative for 8 of the SDGs and very negative for 5. For four of them, the impact is both positive and negative.

The example of the high ambition pathway assumes protection of rural areas against a 100-year flood (1:100) and an even higher level of flood protection for urban areas (1:1000). It also assumes an integrated approach in the development of flood risk strategies, including the use of nature-based solutions and water-resilient spatial planning and development.

This pathway contributes very positively to most of the SDGs. It particularly requires a transformation in working with strong institutions (SDG 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions), as well as partnerships (SDG 17 Partnerships for the Goals) across public authorities, private sectors and society and well-organised inclusive development processes.

How is the human impact on rivers and deltas affecting achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals?

SDG Wheel -->

This illustration shows the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Colours indicate the extent to which the human impact on rivers and deltas has affected achievement of these SDGs. For each SDG the human impact and how it affects achievement of the SDG is elaborated in the text. Currently, the impact is negative for 8 of the SDGs and very negative for 5. For four of them, the impact is both positive and negative.

working in the same direction

global pathways, local action

Getting serious about sustainable and climate-resilient development requires fundamental changes in policy development, planning and investment decisions, on all scales. The path of shifting values following the SDGs and the Paris Agreement is obvious yet commonly still unrecognised, and investments in many countries, urban areas and sectors are still based on ‘the old climate’.

Building a shared language and narrative based on the SDGs, and organising inclusive tables and processes in policy development, plans and projects, on all scales, are key elements in bending the trend and working in the same direction.

Water as leverage

Water is linked to many of the Sustainable Development Goals, is at the core of climate change adaptation, and cuts across the various domains and scales. Over time, water has proven to be a source of collaboration rather than conflict, and in spite of the increasing pressures and tensions, water again may form a basis for bridging interests, overcoming lock-ins and building shared new and sustainable pathways.

River basin and delta systems provide a natural geographical scale to analyse the complexity and interactions within the system and to explore coherent future sustainable pathways. Within these systems, local action must take the functioning of the entire system into account, so that local action contributes to sustainable rivers and deltas, and more generally to the global pathways towards a sustainable future.

Read more at waterasleverage.org

From global pathways to local action in a system-wide approach

This illustration shows five scales of governance: project, local, national, transnational and global scale. The SDGs are relevant across all these scales. Adaptation pathways at the global scale must be translated into local action.

Source: PBL

Sustainable development: working in the same direction, on all scales, requires adopting the SDGs as an inspiration for developing scale- and place-based development strategies, plans and projects that are anchored in the cultural and social environment.

inclusive tables and coalitions

Building on existing bureaucracies at various scales and integrating water- and climate-related challenges in sustainable development strategies requires a new way of working as well as well-organised participative processes, involving all relevant actors. Depending on the scale and situation, the initiating parties may vary, for instance, from national or local authorities to private companies, NGOs or sectoral organisations.

Working in the same direction

This illustration shows all the stakeholders that have to work together to deal with current and future water challenges, including public and private parties, local communities, NGOs, knowledge institutes, and sectoral, multilateral and financial organisations.
Building inclusive tables and effective coalitions calls for an open mind of any stakeholder and the will to collaborate and share the SDGs as inspiration for integrative sustainable development. Collaboration and finding common ground enables finding new situation-specific solutions and may result in overcoming lock-ins and vested interests.

Becoming inspired by the SDGs

The examples above illustrate how various pathways and solutions can contribute to sustainable development and achieving the SDGs, to varying degrees. Sustainable development is not central in the projected business-as-usual scenario. The result is a further decline in many qualities of the river and delta systems. Shifting values, ambitions and development decisions towards sustainable development at any scale require awareness among the involved actors and the will to jointly explore the pros and cons of these decisions in the light of the SDGs.

The links between water issues, climate adaptation and the SDGs vary, depending on the scale and place. From global to local, collaborating actors may be inspired to work on a meaningful elaboration of the SDGs, thus building a shared language and understanding of sustainable development.

Post COVID-19 opportunities

The COVID-19 outbreak has changed the world. Large investments are needed to respond to the crisis and to reconstruct the economy. Governments and international organisations are doing all they can to provide urgent relief. Linking the short-term COVID-19 recovery agenda to the mid-term sustainability agenda – the SDGs – and the long-term climate agenda – COP21 – is a win-win strategy, avoiding ‘old school’ projects that will set us back in time instead of creating a better future.