“In grappling with long-term climate change, it is natural to turn to climate modeling for guidance… The models, which are essential for elucidating the global climate system, have been informative in some applications related to agriculture or water development over large regions. But for many planning and design applications, especially when applied to smaller areas, to precipitation, and to extreme events, models often give too wide a dispersion of readings to provide useful guidance. A review of the application of these models…found that they are often used as a backdrop for urging the adoption of ‘no-regret’ actions, and rarely for quantitative decision-making on options.”

Adapting to Climate Change: Assessing the World Bank Group Experience. Independent Evaluation Group (IEG)-World Bank/IFC/MIGA. Washington, DC, 2012. Overview, pp xxii-xxiii

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The desire to manage water sustainably has broad support, but defining “sustainable” water management has proven difficult for policymakers with instruments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goals are no less challenging at an operational level. An important question for defining sustainability in an operational context is the most relevant timescale for measurement: can you define sustainability over a year? a decade? a century? even longer?

In practice, much of our management of water occurs through the medium of long-lived infrastructure — infrastructure which can easily endure for a century or more (e.g., Li and Xu 2006), even outlasting the financing and governance mechanisms that created that infrastructure (Hallegatte 2009). At these timescales, decisions made today about design, allocation, governance, and operations may have impacts decades away, which is a timescale very relevant to the current period of climate change (Dominique 2013).

Understanding the degree, form, and severity of climate risks facing water management and planning is necessary to achieve sustainable resource management and development goals for energy, food production, sanitation and supply, and ecosystems. That is where the new paradigm of "bottom-up" approaches come in. This set of relatively new and complementary methodologies can help water managers assess and address climate risk and other uncertainties. Each is described in more detail below.


  • World Bank Decision Tree Framework

    The DTF is a guidance that progressively directs the user through a series of queries to assess and reduce the risk of a project, program, or activity to failure from uncertain futures such as climate risks. It is a pragmatic process for water resources management planning and design through bottom-up vulnerability assessments. The DTF is the first and only formal institutionalizing of bottom-up approaches at an operational agency.

  • Collaborative Risk Informed Decision Analysis

    CRIDA is a complementary document to the DTF approach that is designed for technical water decision makers who wish to assess and then reduce the influence of climate change on water resources management planning, design, and operations. CRIDA combines state of the art approaches to develop robust solutions with stakeholders while assessing risk with flexible and governance-sensitive approaches, operations and implementation.

  • Eco-Engineering Decision Scaling

    EEDS is a novel approach that explicitly and quantitatively explores tradeoffs in stakeholder defined engineering and ecological performance metrics across a range of possible management actions under unknown future hydrological and climate states. It works to reconcile ecological and human-centered water management objectives.

  • Adaptation Pathways

    Adaptation Pathways was developed as a mechanism for envisioning how sequences of decisions can be navigated over time. The approach describes a sequence of policy actions or investments in institutions and infrastructure over time to achieve a set of pre-specified objectives (e.g., performance indicators and decision thresholds) given uncertain, hard to know, and shifting conditions.

  • Decision Scaling

    Developed in 2008 through the Upper Great Lakes International Joint Commission in North America, Decision Scaling is a systematic bottom-up approach to align climate change adaptation designs with traditional engineering planning. It starts by examining the decision context, defined by an explicit “problem statement”, which then drives the design and planning process.

  • Water Criteria for Climate Bonds

    Water-related projects are a growing subset of the "green" or climate bonds market that encourages investments for a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy. The Water Sector Criteria of the Climate Bonds Standard is intended to provide investors with verifiable, science-based criteria for evaluating water-related bonds. It will allow investors to prioritize projects that are seriously considering their climate impacts and climate resilience.

About the Knowledge Platform

The Knowledge Platform is designed to promote and showcase an emerging set of approaches to water resources management that address climate change and other uncertainties -- increasing the use of "bottom-up approaches" through building capacity towards implementation, informing relevant parties, engaging in discussion, and creating new networks. This is an ongoing project of the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) funded by the World Bank Group.

Contact AGWA

Alliance for Global Water Adaptation
7640 NW Hoodview Cir.
Corvallis, Oregon 97330