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Wise-Up to Climate

Wise-Up to Climate
Wise-Up to Climate

‘WISE-UP to climate’ is a project that demonstrates natural infrastructure as a ‘nature-based solution’ for climate change adaptation and sustainable development. The project will develop knowledge on how to use portfolios of built water infrastructure (eg. dams, levees, irrigation channels) and natural infrastructure (eg. wetlands, floodplains, watersheds) for poverty reduction, water-energy-food security, biodiversity conservation, and climate resilience. WISE-UP will show the application of optimal portfolios of built and natural infrastructure using dialogue with decision-makers to agree trade-offs. WISE-UP will run over a four-year period and link ecosystem services more directly into water infrastructure development in the Tana (Kenya) and Volta (Ghana-Burkina Faso) river basins.


  • Assessments of Natural Infrastructure – tested in decision-making on infrastructure in the Volta and Tana basins
  • Hydrological Monitoring – eco-hydrological functions quantified in planning models
  • Economic Assessment – returns on investment for natural and built infrastructure options compared
  • Novel Tools – innovation for analyzing trade-offs in river basins and built and natural infrastructure optimized
  • Innovation Drivers – opportunities for new policies and investment strategies identified and promoted
  • Action Learning – learning by doing with decision makers and stakeholders participating in dialogues and negotiations
  • Capacity Building & Communications – skills and capacities strengthened through ‘learning communities’ and dissemination of results to knowledge networks.

Ecosystem Services

Services from ecosystems underpin water, food and energy security (see fig.1). Without healthy ecosystems in well-functioning watersheds, the infrastructure built for irrigation, hydropower or municipal water supply may not function sustainably, and is unlikely to achieve the economic returns necessary to justify investments. Equally, external factors such as climate change can adversely affect the stock of services an ecosystem provides. With its functions integral to water, food and energy, and there interdependence, nature is part of the infrastructure portfolio.

Combining Built and Natural Infrastructure

Water security is vital for sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. Investments are made worldwide in water infrastructure, for storage and flood control, water supply and quality, and for disaster-risk reduction. However, these investments and their benefits are not always evenly distributed, with least-developed countries often the most poorly serviced.
The benefits from combined water infrastructure portfolios include water, food and energy security, industrial development and wealth generation. Benefits are amplified in particular when ecosystem services are linked more directly into water infrastructure development. When river basins themselves are treated as infrastructure, more optimal outcomes for poverty reduction, ecosystem management, growth and climate resilience can be achieved.

Climate Resilient Policies and Programmes

Growth, poverty reduction and climate change adaptation are issues with the highest priority on the policy agenda for many developing countries. Water infrastructure is seen as an asset for growth and poverty reduction, and in strategies for climate change adaptation. However, competing policy narratives argue that water infrastructure degrades ecosystem services that the poor rely on most. In some cases, this may impact ecosystem services that the poor rely on, and may impact the natural resilience of river basins to climate change.
WISE-UP will support new policies and strategies for water infrastructure that will better and more coherently address and integrate policy goals for growth, poverty reduction and climate adaptation. The project will provide critically-needed knowledge and tools for managing the trade-offs between built infrastructure and the ecosystem services provided by natural infrastructure.

Benefits from Natural Infrastructure

Infrastructure solutions for water security that incorporate both natural and built options are known to work. These can enhance efficiency, effectiveness and equity, but also spur implementation and progress towards long-term availability of water for all. From this, benefits then flow, for example:

  • Drinking water supply – watershed management saved $ 5bn in capital costs for New York City and $ 300m annually; storage of Beijing’s drinking water in the Miyun watershed forests is worth $ 1.9bn annually.
  • Food security – Tonle Sap lake and Mekong river fisheries supply 70-75% of people’s animal protein intake in Cambodia and are worth up to $ 500m annually, employing 2m people.
  • Climate change resilience – with investment in developing skills and water institutions, people in the Pangani river basin (Tanzania) are negotiating ‘environmental flows’ to sustain the ecosystem services they need for climate change adaptation, food and water security.
  • Energy security – returns on investment in soil conservation has significantly extended the life expectancy of the Itaipu dam (Brazil, Paraguay); watershed management has been worth $ 15-40m for the Paute hydroelectric scheme (Ecuador).
  • Land management – watershed restoration on the Loess Plateau (China) has eliminated the need for drought-related emergency food aid to a region that is home to 50m people.
  • Risk Reduction – Restoring mangroves in Vietnam for storm defence provides a ‘win-win’ result, improving the livelihoods of local resource users, biodiversity, as well as enhancing sea defences.

[Download and read full Wise-Up to Climate brochure]