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Infrastructure and water strategies for climate compatible development

Time (GMT +01) 18:00 19:30

Lily Ryan-Collins
-Infrastructure Advisor, DFID and former Programme Officer, EAP during report authorship.
Dr Alexis Nzahabwanimana
- Minister of State in Charge of Transport, Rwandan Government (by video conference)
Roger Calow
- Head of Programme, Water Policy, ODI

Peter Newborne
- Research Associate, ODI

Karen Ellis - Head of Programme, Private Sector and Markets, ODI

This event launched two recent reports that discuss the role of the infrastructure sector in meeting the challenge of climate change in the developing world:

Climate compatible development in the infrastructure sector’ and

'Climate change and WASH [Water, Sanitation and Hygiene]: A Scoping Study'.

First of all,Lily Ryan-Collins who co-authored the first paper, and who is currently the Infrastructure Advisor for DFID, though worked for Engineers Against Poverty at the time the paper was written, presented the key messages from the paper.  The presentation began with an explanation on how key policymakers and practitioners that are involved with climate change adaptation infrastructure have a crucial role to play in the mitigation and adaptation to the effects of climate change in the long-term. It has been estimated that approximately 75% of climate change adaptation investments in the developing world will need to be undertaken within the infrastructure sector but there are three key challenges that need to be overcome:
  1. There needs to be increased capacities for governments in developing countries to develop and implement coherent climate change policy frameworks.
  2. Lack of finance is a major constraint that needs to be addressed, with hundreds of billions of dollars required to meet mitigation and adaptation goals.
  3. New low carbon technology needs to be developed and widely disseminated in developing countries.

These three challenges are linked, for example in order to support the development of new technologies in developing countries, there needs to be a coherent government strategy that provides the correct incentives for research, likewise new technology can attract financing or vice-versa, with financing required in order to undertake research.

Hence efforts to raise finance and transfer technology need demand led, capacity building programmes which need to be implemented by developing country governments in order to invest in climate change adaptation and mitigation infrastructure.

Climate Change also creates developmental opportunities in the infrastructure sector. For example it allows access to new sources of finance (though this tends to mostly occur in middle income countries). It creates the opportunity for “green” employment as well as allowing the developmental outcomes of adaptation investments to be maximised, through the long-term strategic planning of such investments. Finally, it can also create synergies between climate change mitigation and adaptation activities and developmental priorities.

The infrastructure sector needs to receive a lot of climate change investment in the future, however it appears that it is currently underfunded.  In addition, the report found that buildings are a priority for adaptation and mitigation, but that most of the climate change funding goes towards energy projects. This suggests funding flows are currently sub-optimal.

The discussant for this paper was Dr. Alexis Nzahabwanimana, who is the Minister of State in Charge of Transport for the Rwandan Government. Dr. Nzahabwanimana  stated that the Government of Rwanda was currently developing a strategy on Climate Compatible Transport and that the ultimate aim was to create an efficient and inclusive public transport system by 2015 as well as a regionally competitive transport industry that would support the Rwandan Economy. Rwanda requires an integrated transport system for its cities in order to provide transport for the public as well as reducing carbon emissions. The Minister stated that it would be important to raise the necessary finance in order to develop the correct transport technology as well as build capacity within the Rwandan government.

Climate change impacts the transport sector through multiple channels. For example, flooding and droughts (as well as other natural calamities) can damage roads which will need to be constantly repaired. Climate change will thus result in increased transport costs as maintenance costs increase and older infrastructure no longer becomes viable to use, hence adaptation investments are required for transport infrastructure. To undertake such investments and in order to meet the challenges posed by climate change it will be necessary to combine both domestic and international funds.

Climate change also gives rise to some opportunities. For example, the increase in the volume of certain rivers (caused by increased rainfall) will help these rivers to become more navigable, enhancing the economic opportunities for the areas in which they flow. The Minister concluded by stating that Rwanda was limited in its capacity to absorb technologies and that it would need to promote labour intensive and local knowledge based technologies in order to meet the challenges posed by climate change.

The discussion was continued by Roger Callow, Head of the Water Programme at ODI, and author of the second paper'Climate change and WASH [Water, Sanitation and Hygiene]: A Scoping Study.  He stated that globally, progress towards the Millennium Development Goals dealing with drinking water is on track, however most of the progress is occurring in China and India. On the other hand, MDG targets for sanitation are off-track.

There are no neat correlations between access to water and the water endowments within a country or the economic performance of a country in relation to its access to water. Climate change does have an impact on water, with changes in flow regimes, water quality, groundwater recharge rates and an increase in the occurrence of extreme events as well as increasing uncertainty over rainfall quantities. However there is too narrow a focus on the physical scarcity of water and the metrics used to measure it and there is a need to move towards a more balanced approach by looking at both the supply side (water variability and scale) as well as the demand side (i.e. access to water). Overall groundwater storage is currently high, hence countries are not going to run out of water through domestic use.

Adaptation is, in practice, “business as usual but done better” hence it is necessary to improve resource assessment measures, strengthen governance (especially at the local level), improve the functionality of infrastructure (as well as build infrastructure redundancies), protect water sources from contamination, offer mixed technologies and invest in water storage infrastructure. Climate change is not happening in isolation, but together with a number of other pressures (such as growing populations), hence extending access to water and addressing bottlenecks such as storage is the key solution required.

Peter Newborne a Research Associate to ODI, acted as discussant to this paper, and concluded the discussion by stating that there were huge deficits in Africa in terms of access to water and electricity, so there is increasing demand for both. Assessments of the impacts of Climate Change need to be included in any study that looks at access to water and issues of redundancy and flexibility are important in order to not become locked into a situation (of limited access to water) that countries cannot get themselves out of in the long-term.


This event launches two recent reports that discuss the role of the infrastructure sector in meeting the challenge of climate change in the developing world. 

The first is entitled ‘Climate compatible development in the infrastructure sector’ and is co-authored by Engineers Against Poverty (EAP) and the ODI Private Sector and Markets Programme.  It provides a broad overview of the challenges and opportunities at the nexus of climate change, infrastructure and development and includes an analysis of data on climate-related infrastructure funding flows. 

The second report - 'Climate change, water resources and WASH: a scoping study'- explores the impacts of climate change on water resources and water supply, saniation and hygiene (WASH), and implications for sector policy and practice. Compiled by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Water Policy Programme (WPP) at ODI and the British Geological Survey (BGS), the report summarises the latest scientific evidence on climate change and water, and discusses adaptation responses at international, national and local levels.