Adaptive Capacity of Transboundary Basins in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Sahel

Date published: 01/01/2012

Climate change will have a dramatic impact on the timing and flows of water across the globe.  Responses to climate change in a transboundary river basin depend not on national and sub-national capacities alone, but also on the ability of co-riparian nations to communicate, coordinate, and cooperate across their international boundary so as to prevent as well as to take advantage of any benefits that may accrue from coordinated action.  Evaluating transboundary river basins in light of their transboundary adaptive capacity sheds lights on likely ‘hotspots’ or areas of concern, as a lack of adaptive capacity in a region at high risk of increased water hazards may lead to both international tensions and decreases in human security.

To evaluate the adaptive capacity of transboundary river basins in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and the Sahel (i.e., the CLICO study region), we draw from research on international environmental cooperation to develop a framework of transboundary adaptive capacity.  The process by which adaptation occurs differs with scale: at the transboundary level, it is interactions between co-riparians which constitute the process of adaptation.  Thus our framework encapsulates the characteristics of transboundary basins that facilitate the ability of co-riparians to address potential cross-border externalities via coordinated action including:  Authority, National-Level Governance, Common Perspectives, Risk Planning and Provisions, Basin Information Interchange, and Linkages. These six features are translated into twelve measurable indicators and calculated for each of the 42 basins in the study area.

We find a large variation in adaptive capacity across the study area:  on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 representing a high transboundary adaptive capacity, the mean transboundary adaptive capacity basin index score is 41, yet basins score as low as 16 (the Wadi Al Izziyah basin) and as high as 74 (the Rhone basin).  Basins in Western Europe are better prepared to address the potential hazards of climate change than other basins in the study area.  None-the-less, all basins in the study area would benefit from additional mechanisms for risk planning and provision.

We use a cluster analysis to develop a typology of transboundary river basins.  The basins are classified into six categories:  Well Prepared, Mediated Cooperation, Good Neighbour, Dependent Instability, Self-Sufficient, and Ill Prepared.  We find the Douro/Duero, Guadiana, Lima, Mino, Tagus/Tejo, Rhone, and Danube river basins are Well Prepared to address potential cross-border hazards stemming from climate change whereas the Krka, Neretva, Wadi Al Izziyah, Baraka, Awash, and Juba-Shibeli river basins are Ill Prepared.  Other basins tended to cluster based on the presence or absence of treaties and river basin organizations, the degree of trade linkages and the degree of water dependency.  This typology points to how policy interventions are best targeted according to the characteristics of the basins.  For example in some basins (i.e., Mediated Cooperation), a lack of shared norms may be a bottleneck; whereas in others the problem may be political instability of riparian countries (i.e., Dependent Instability).

To determine if adaptation policies might best focus on a particular country within a basin, rather than the basin as a whole, we analyze the intra-basin dynamics.  Fourteen of the basins contain a weakest link riparian; yet 5 of those 14 scored well on the adaptive capacity index, suggesting low adaptive capacities are systemic rather than the result of any particular country.

Lastly, to examine the relationship between capacities at varying scales, basin level metrics are compared with national and treaty level metrics.  Here we find indicators of transboundary adaptive capacity highlight aspects of basins not encapsulated by national level capacity metrics and thus confirm the importance of measuring capacity at the transboundary scale.

Milman, A., L. Bunclark, D. Conway, and W. N. Adger

Download: Tyndall Working Paper #151