Insights from COP25: The (Interconnected) Pillars of Water System Transformation

Insights from COP25: The (Interconnected) Pillars of Water System Transformation

By Jason Morrison

At both major international climate events this year – COP25 in Madrid this month and the Climate Action Summit in New York City in September – there was a clear, resounding message from the environmental community: “We are exactly on track to where we don’t want to go, and change is needed now.” This message, while not new, was spoken this year with unprecedented urgency (thanks in large part to the voices of Greta Thunberg and others in the youth climate movement).

Transforming water systems to be climate resilient is a critical component of the needed change. This means urgent action to plan for and adapt to climate impacts on water systems; it also means urgent action to minimize the contribution of water systems to the climate crisis.

Drawing on the insights, inspiration, and strong sense of imminence from this year’s climate events, here is a list of key pillars of the transformation to a climate resilient future:

Act now.

Climate change is the defining challenge of our time, and we stand at a critical juncture between transformation to a climate resilient future, and the business-as-usual path towards the breakdown of current systems. Progress to date is inadequate. Countries and companies who adapt now will thrive; those who do not will fail. We must all act now.

Put climate resilience first.

Climate resilience must be the primary frame for all that we do. We must mainstream innovative and diverse mitigation and adaptation measures. Future decision-making must systemically recognize the value of water, within the context of unpredictable weather patterns. It must also balance the trade-offs and returns to society, the environment, and the economy. We must develop the flexibility to manage uncertainty and operate under climatic extremes.

Take a system view.

Climate resilience is a system-level concept which integrates and optimizes the contribution of all key components, with water being one of the most critical variables. A public policy revolution is required to harmonize the needs and contributions of society (to sustain livelihoods and meet water-energy-food demands) with those of the natural environment.

Embed nature.

Nature is our strongest ally in building resilience, but stands at a critical juncture between conservation and uncontrollable decline. Urgent action is required to restore and protect natural systems. We must understand, value, and enhance the critical functions and services delivered by nature – especially in managing water qualities and flows. This will include embedding nature-based solutions in landscape planning through integration of green-grey infrastructure solutions.

Promote circular management.

Climate resilient water systems are circular, and maximize the value of all qualities and flows within the cycle. We must optimize system efficiencies by incentivizing reuse and eliminating loss and misuse.  Establishing wastewater as an asset class is fundamental.


Building resilience will require unprecedented levels of collaboration between all sectors and actors, and at all scales. The age of silos – in and between countries, governments, and organizations – is over.  Innovative multi-stakeholder platforms to accelerate and scale collective action and policy reform are critical.

Tell stories.

Collaboration and system change will be achieved through communication and awareness. We must engage everyone in this dialogue to ensure that all voices are heard, and all people are empowered.  Technical speak about risk and resilience alone does not engage, inspire, or transform. We must engage through listening and telling stories, supported by evidence and science.


The Pacific Institute has just set a new 2030 goal to catalyze the transformation to water resilience in the face of climate change, and we stand ready to collaborate with any and all organizations that share an interest in advancing these pillars!

1 thought on “Insights from COP25: The (Interconnected) Pillars of Water System Transformation”

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