Coastal vulnerability & freshwater security

Cracked wheat field

In April 2012 a €20m joint funding call was launched between the Belmont Forum and the G8 Research Councils Initiative on Multilateral Funding that takes forwards the process developed by G8 Heads of Research Councils (G8HORCs) and delivers against two priority areas of the Belmont Challenge:

  • Freshwater security
  • Coastal vulnerability

Belmont Forum: Freshwater security - mid-term projects meeting

26 Sep 2014

The mid-term projects meeting for the freshwater security theme will be held alongside AGU in San Francisco, USA, on 13 December 2014.

Theme 1: Freshwater Security

We live on a resource-limited planet where pressures on water usage are increasing rapidly and pose mounting challenges for sustainable water management. In addition, climate change is anticipated to cause many water-stressed regions to become even drier and the frequency of extreme events, both droughts and floods, to increase and exacerbate the disaster risk of the society.

The capacity of society to mitigate against such problems and, where possible, to adapt to them is currently constrained by the limits of our understanding and knowledge of the complex coupling of natural and anthropogenic systems that operate on the multiples scales of water stress and the unavailability of this science to management decision-making. The global scientific community needs to rapidly evolve the knowledge base that will enhance our capacity to enable communities to become more resilient, and manage the water system more sustainably in the face of the many interacting drivers of water supply and demand.

Water stress is a key component of water security and is influenced both by natural hydro-meteorological processes as well as the many complex facets of our wider societal footprint, such as land-use or water abstraction (for agriculture or industry) which in turn are governed by patterns of consumption or population change. We currently have an inadequate understanding of the critical interactions between natural processes and human activities over a wide range of temporal and spatial scales, as well as across different regions.

Managing regional water security remains challenging, as the science enabling confident forecasts of rain-fed water supply over the (seasonal) timescales that are most useful in decision-making is also highly immature. Furthermore, we have a limited set of management approaches, both physical and behavioural, that will enable society to become more resilient to water stress in future decades.

To tackle such problems requires a significant directional change in the science we need to undertake. We need to develop novel, transferable, approaches to the delivery of freshwater security in order to facilitate decision making for 'wicked' problems that inevitably involve trade-offs (eg between ecosystems services and livelihoods or lifestyles). Research is therefore needed to address the coupling of natural and anthropogenic systems operating on the multiples scales of water stress as well as the complexity of the associated decision-making processes.

Recognising this, and the value of interdisciplinary and comparative approaches, the Belmont Forum and G8HORCs are calling for research groups from at least three different countries involving both natural and social sciences to co-design and develop, in conjunction with users, medium-sized regionally-based projects that tackle either one or both of the following work packages:

  1. Identification and characterisation of the interactions between natural processes (physical and biological, including ecological processes) and human (including cultural, social, economic, technological, abstraction, transfer and water re-use) practices that govern water budgeting in selected regions. This will include establishing how these drivers vary over wide-ranging temporal and spatial scales (including extreme events and global scales), their impacts, and determining which are most important in governing the vulnerability of socio-economic and environmental systems to water extremes.

  2. Development of approaches that support the evolution of resilient communities / regions through improved seasonal (months to multi-year) forecasting of droughts, taking into account natural (hydro-meteorological) and socio-economic drivers identified in the above work package. Research should clearly couple the complex system science of water stress at multiple scales to the structure and protocols for decision making.

Development of these approaches is expected to involve both model-based and place-based research that makes use of existing observations and existing modelling approaches, and where possible identifies key missing local observations. It will explore utilisation of forecast advice, and will consider determining how individuals, communities, businesses and governments alter, or not, their habits and practices on the basis of improved forecasts.

Theme 2: Coastal Vulnerability

As the proportion of the world population living near coasts increases during the 21st century, coastal environments may be degraded by multiple stresses arising from local to global scale drivers (eg water use, influx of sediments and pollutants, ecosystem degradation, river flooding, shoreline erosion, storms, tsunamis, relative sea level rise, aggregate extraction, etc). Decision making, social adaptation and building governance to enable resilience against coastal risks is difficult because of the complex interactions between these drivers and competing concerns (eg human migration, lifestyles, land-use, and ecosystems services).

Assessments of what makes a system vulnerable vary greatly from one case to another due to the conjunction of multiple drivers (eg type of hazard, environmental context, socio-economic development, social situation, risk management) and local circumstances. This situation often results in the development and use of specific local approaches that are not generic enough to be used elsewhere, and therefore inhibit the wider sharing of knowledge (eg between nations).

To tackle such problems requires a significant directional change in the science we need to undertake. We need to develop novel, transferable, coastal vulnerability assessment approaches to facilitate decision making for 'wicked' problems that inevitably involve trade-offs (eg between ecosystems services and livelihoods or lifestyles).

To globally capitalise on local and national expertise, this CRA is promoting the development and comparison and transfer of coastal scientific approaches which link researchers to decision makers and communities. The focus of this call is on the vulnerability, resilience and adaptation options of coastal societal, managed and natural systems to multiple drivers. This may be within different environments (eg estuaries, deltas and bays) and in areas of different societal development (eg post-industrialisation, emerging, developing countries or regions).

Recognising this, and the value of interdisciplinary and comparative approaches, the Belmont Forum and G8HORCs are calling for research groups, from at least three different countries, involving natural and social scientists to co-design and develop, in conjunction with users, medium-sized projects that address either one or both of the following work packages:

  1. Characterisation of natural process and human (including cultural, technological and socio-economic) interactions that govern coastal vulnerability and resilience. This should establish how multiple stresses vary over wide-ranging temporal and spatial scales (including past extreme events), analyse their impacts, and determine the most important factors which govern the vulnerability of socio-economic and environmental coastal systems.

    Determining what science based knowledge enables people (eg individuals, communities, businesses, etc) to change their habits and practices towards more sustainable management in the coastal zone should be investigated. Particular attention should be dedicated to the comparative reanalysis of highly documented areas, the evaluation of predictive frameworks and the identification of information needs to improve them. This will support international convergence towards a coastal vulnerability and resilience typology to enhance decision making.

  2. Development of predictive frameworks and adaptive coastal management strategies that support the evolution of resilient coastal communities. In particular, this should be based on jointly-developed natural and social science based scenarios of gradual or abrupt large-scale changes and their interactions. It should consider the role of legislative and governance issues, evolving regulatory frameworks, as well as economic, social and political barriers and opportunities. Probabilistic approaches to assess the uncertainty in coupled models will be welcome.

Timing

2013-2016

Budget

There is a combined international budget of approximately €24m. The UK (NERC and ESRC) budget stands at €2·8m.

Awards

Thirteen international research consortia have been awarded funding in the first Belmont Forum Call - external link. These consortia will develop novel, transferable approaches to the assessment and management of Coastal Vulnerability and to the delivery of Freshwater Security in order to facilitate decision-making for 'wicked' problems that inevitably involve trade-offs (eg between ecosystems services and livelihoods or lifestyles).

In July 2013, seven awards were announced in the Coastal Vulnerability Theme and six awards were announced in the Freshwater Security Theme.

UK researchers are participating in eight of the consortia (five in the Coastal Vulnerability Theme and three in the Freshwater Security Theme), jointly supported by NERC and ESRC at a level of approximately €2·5m (which leverages a further approximately €8·4m from Partner Organisations).

Coastal Vulnerability theme

View the UK component of the 'Catalyzing action towards sustainability of deltaic systems with an integrated modelling framework for risk assessment' project - external link

View the UK component of the 'An integrated framework to analyse local decision making and adaptive capacity to large-scale environmental change: community case studies in Brazil, UK and US' project - external link

View the UK component of the 'Transformation and resilience on urban coasts' project - external link

View the first UK component of the 'Global learning for local solutions: reducing vulnerability of marine-dependent coastal communities' project - external link

View the second UK component of the 'Global learning for local solutions: reducing vulnerability of marine-dependent coastal communities' project - external link

View the UK component of the 'Multi-scale adaptations to global change and their impacts on vulnerability in coastal areas' project - external link

Freshwater Security Theme

View the UK component of the 'Southern Africa's hydro-economy and water security' project - external link

View the UK component of the 'Integrated Analysis of Freshwater Resources Sustainability in Jordan' project - external link

View the UK component of the 'Drought Impacts: Vulnerability thresholds in monitoring and Early-warning Research' project - external link

Coastal Vulnerability consortia will focus on the characterisation of natural process-human interactions that govern coastal vulnerability and resilience, and on the development of predictive frameworks and adaptive coastal management strategies that support the evolution of resilient coastal communities.

Freshwater Security consortia will focus on the identification and characterization of natural process-human practices interactions that govern water budgeting in selected regions, and on the development of approaches that support the evolution of resilient communities/regions through improved seasonal (months to multi-year) forecasting of droughts, taking into account natural (hydro-meteorological) and socio-economic drivers.

€18m has been awarded by the Belmont Forum and G8HORCs Partner Organisations to the transdisciplinary, multinational consortia comprising research-users, and researchers from both social and natural science fields.

UK researchers are involved in partnerships with more than 15 other countries, including Belmont Forum countries Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, South Africa and countries beyond these Partners who have joined the initiative with in-kind support.