Water supply one of World Economic Forum’s top global risks

Experts rate water supply crisis as one of the world’s greatest risks according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2013, an annual report that identifies and quantifies risks to global security.

Water supply crises are rated as the highest societal risk. In terms of impact, they are rated as the second highest risk, maintaining this position from 2012, and previously absent from the top five during the years 2007-2011. Water supply is identified as the fourth highest global risk in terms of likelihood, an increase from its position at fifth in 2012, and again absent from the top five in the previous five reports.

Water supply crises are defined as the decline in the quality and quantity of fresh water combined with increased competition among resource-intensive systems, such as food and energy production.

Related risks identified by the report include food shortage crises (rated fourth for impact) and rising greenhouse gas emissions (rated third in terms of likelihood). Rising food insecurity and aggravated water scarcity are highlighted as possible impacts of global warming. The report urges for ‘climate smart’ decision-making to form an integral part of food and water management and policies. Such a mindset would see climate change analysis incorporated into strategic and operational decision-making.

The Global Risks report is based on an annual survey of over 1,000 experts from government, research, industry and civil society. Download the full report


Jim Hall’s work on coastal flood risk wins Lloyd’s Science of Risk Prize

A paper co-authored by the Director of the Environmental Change Institute, Professor Jim Hall, has been awarded the Lloyd’s Science of Risk Prize in the Climate Change category at a ceremony held at Lloyds of London on 29 November 2012.

The research, led by Professor Richard Dawson at Newcastle University, revealed that in some cases, allowing natural cliff erosion, rather than maintaining physical defenses could reduce the impact of flooding in neighbouring low-lying land.

Populations in coastal areas face considerable threats from sea level rise and increases in the frequency and intensity of storms associated with climate change. Urbanisation and expanding economic activity in these areas only add to the scale of risk.

This award-winning study, entitled ‘Integrated analysis of risks of coastal flooding and cliff erosion under scenarios of long term change’ and published in the journal Climatic Change, used an integrated assessment methodology to explore the trade-offs between flooding and coastal erosion risks on the Norfolk coast.

Professor Hall and colleagues analysed the complex interactions between climatic and socio-economic change and coastal management policy, and for the first time quantified in economic terms, their impact on both flood risk and coastal erosion.

“By understanding some of the interconnected processes we start to appreciate that flood protection is not just about building the biggest dyke possible,” said Professor Richard Dawson, speaking to the Lloyd’s Science of Risk team. “There are other ways of working more subtly with nature and natural processes rather than trying to tackle nature head on and fighting it with a wall.”

Read more about the winners.


Dawson, R.J., Dickson, M.E., Nicholls, R.J., Hall, J.W., Walkden, M.J.A., Stansby, P., Mokrech, M., Richards, J., Zhou, J., Milligan, J., Jordan, A., Pearson, S., Rees, J., Bates, P., Koukoulas, S. and Watkinson, A. (2009) Integrated analysis of risks of coastal flooding and cliff erosion under scenarios of long term changeClimatic Change, 95(1-2): 249-288.

Jim Hall’s work on coastal flooding shortlisted for Lloyd’s Science of Risk Prize

Professor Jim Hall, Director of the Environment Change Institute (ECI) and Science Lead for the Water Security Network, contributed to work on the Tyndall Centre’s Regional Coastal Simulator which has been shortlisted for the Lloyd’s Science of Risk Prize 2012.

This work, which quantified the role of sediments released from cliff erosion in protecting neighbouring low-lying land from flooding, is part of the iCOASST project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, in which ECI is a partner.

The Lloyd’s Science of Risk Prize 2012 called for research on the theme of ‘Natural World’, relating to either natural hazards or climate change. The prize winners will be announced on 29 November 2012.

Water Security Network mentioned in Science journal as example of long-term initiative for joining interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners

In a recent article in Science’s Policy Forum, Karen Bakker, Director of the Program on Water Governance at the University of British Columbia, reflects on the significant challenges and opportunities for water security research.

Bakker warns that the current disconnect between academic research on water security and the needs of policy-makers and practitioners is impeding progress on addressing the global water crisis.

Oxford’s Water Security Network is highlighted as a prime example of the types of long-term initiatives which are needed to bring together interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners, to complement the typical project-based funding.

Another challenge relates to the differences in scale that different disciplinary approaches take to water research. For example, hydrologists have their vision fixed on the river basin, while the interest of political scientists lies with the nation state. Bakker lends support to the use of a risk-based framework, as developed at Oxford’s Water Security, Risk and Society conference in April this year. “Risk analysis frameworks are promising … because they can incorporate multiple, nested spatial and temporal scales”, she points out. Furthermore, the common language of risk may prove useful for bridging disciplinary divides in water security research and analysing the complex trade-offs between multiple and competing objectives.


Highlights from Water Security and Federal Rivers workshop

Federalism has increasing international significance for water security. A global workshop gathered 35 delegates from 12 countries to exchange lessons learned from water reforms to manage water-related risks and conflicts in federal rivers.

Highlights included the development of a common research framework and set of case studies anchored in the insights about river basin management and federalism from public policy, economics, history and complexity science.

A keynote presentation by Dr Jerry Delli Priscoli of the US Army Corps of Engineers chronicled the history and models of river basin management in the US – the world’s oldest federation – to demonstrate the elusive quest for integrated strategies and the significant potential for solutions matched to local and regional circumstances.

Case studies across the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia highlighted the extent and diversity of federal rivers facing common challenges in different contexts, identifying alternative pathways to share risks and manage conflicts.

The workshop culminated with a preliminary synthesis and comparative reflections by George Anderson, President Emeritus of the Forum of Federations, who noted the need to learn from both success and failure: “while some federations have succeeded in putting in place river basins authorities and achieving integrated management, the story more generally is one of failure.” He observed that states often address water conflicts until they become salient enough to trigger federal intervention.

The initial workshop outcomes include a briefing paper and an edited book volume released in 2013 based on chapters presented during the workshop. A global hub on federal rivers will be established at the Global Water Forum in summer 2012 to provide a platform for long range collaboration and comparative research.

Australian National University sponsored the workshop with support from the Forum of Federations. The workshop was organised by Dr Dustin Garrick (Oxford), Drs Daniel Connell and Jamie Pittock (Australian National University) and George Anderson (President Emeritus, Forum of Federations).