“Water is a Master Variable” – the central role of water in building resilience

The first paper, authored by Dr Fred Boltz and global leaders in resilience, freshwater ecology and engineering science, is published from a Water Security Journal Special Issue on the central role of water in building resilience to climate and Earth system change.

As COP 25 opens in Madrid, the Resilience Shift is delighted to announce the launch of a Water Security Journal Special Issue on Building Resilience through Water.

This suite of peer-reviewed papers sets out a conceptual framework supported by a portfolio of applied research into water and the resilience of human and natural systems, including cities, infrastructure, energy and river basins.

The series has been steered by Dr Fred Boltz, Water Lead for the Global Centre on Adaptation, and a Resilience Shift Ambassador, who has led our work on urban water resilience in collaboration with Arup, 100 Resilient Cities, the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), the World Bank, and numerous others.

The framing paper for this series, Water is a Master Variable: Solving for Resilience in the Modern Era, is now available online.

This paper explores our central thesis for the special issue, that a sound approach to understanding and solving for the resilience of human systems under future Earth system and societal change can be found by basing our designs on water. This paper emerged through a series of inspiring conversations with thought leaders in resilience, freshwater ecology, systems science and engineering.

Fred says, “It was a thrill and a true honor to explore, challenge and develop this argument and resilience pathway with such brilliant and committed colleagues from leading institutions in resilience and water science, including the Stockholm Resilience Center, the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the Resilience Shift.”

The Special Issue builds upon this thesis, considering further how water may inform our efforts to design for resilience.  Water is a defining element in human and natural systems. Human civilization and water systems have co-evolved as a coupled system, with the majority of natural freshwater systems transformed to meet our demands. Shifting patters of water availability in space and time will define key pathways and tipping points for our resilience, and thus requirements for water system resilience must guide the trajectories and boundaries of human development.

The initial cohort of papers in the full Special Issue are now online. This has been a signature effort of the Resilience Shift, in our effort to advance resilience science building for the improved design and management of critical infrastructure and to fuel knowledge-building and networking to strengthen our global response to changing futures.

‘Water Action Day’ at COP25 is 6 December, but there are a number of water and climate-related meetings during the conference that reflect the great efforts of collaborators on this project, including the work behind the City Water Resilience Approach, the Resilience by Design work led by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the World Bank, and the exemplary advocacy by the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) on the leading role water plays in climate change adaptation and resilience.

Find out more:
Water is a Master Variable: Solving for Resilience in the Modern Era
Water Security Journal (Volume 8, December 2019, 100048)
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2468312418300208?via%3Dihub

Authors are:

 Abstract:

Resilience is increasingly recognised as an imperative for any prospect of sustainable development, as it relates to our ability to sustain human well-being and progress under the planetary and societal changes that we face now and into the future. Yet, we are ill-prepared to meet this challenge.

We neither fully understand nor manage consistently for resilience of the human and natural systems that we must steward through extraordinary change. A unifying approach and common currency would help us to understand and manage for resilience under uncertain futures.

Water is an essential, defining element in human and natural systems. Human civilization and water systems have co-evolved as a coupled system, with the majority of natural freshwater systems transformed to meet our demands. Shifting patters of water availability in space and time will define key pathways and tipping points for our resilience, and thus requirements for water system resilience must guide the trajectories and boundaries of human development.

Here, we consider the thesis that water offers a key to unlocking the complex challenge of designing and managing for the resilience of coupled human-natural systems. We examine what constitutes a resilient system, what drives freshwater resilience, and how pathways to human resilience may be charted and navigated through the medium of water. Our theoretical treatise frames a portfolio of research that tests this thesis, including modelling and applications to water and water-dependent systems.

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