World Water Scenarios to 2050, exploring alternative futures of the world’s water and its use to 2050

Climate change and other factors external to water management (such as demography, technology, politics, societal values, governance and law) are demonstrating accelerating trends or disruptions. Yet in spite of these challenges and the increasing complexity of dealing with them, we know less and less about water resources and how they are being used. This creates new risks and uncertainties for water managers and for those who determine the direction of water actions.

The fourth edition of the United Nations World Water Development Report, Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk, brings these issues to the forefront.

In response to this challenge, the United Nations World Water Assessment Programme has launched two parallel initiatives: Indicators and Supporting Monitoring for the United Nations World Water Development Report a project to gather the data for use in indicators to facilitate the task of decision-makers, and the World Water Scenarios Project, a set of alternative futures of the world’s water and its use to 2050.

More than 10 years have passed since the last set of global water scenarios was developed under the sponsorship of the World Water Council, during preparation of the World Water Vision (Cosgrove and Rijsberman, 2000) .
Since then, technology and socio-economic conditions in the world have altered dramatically, both within and outside the water sector, and change continues to accelerate.
New policy initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals  have also since emerged.

Scenarios being developed in other sectors provide new links to explore, and new tools have become available to develop stronger scenarios reinforced by analysis through models at the national and subnational levels.

The approach for developing the new set of scenarios will be similar to the method followed for the World Water Vision: an iterative process of building qualitative scenarios and constructing simulation models, in which a Scenario Focus Group (SFG) engages with scenario experts, stakeholders,
data experts, modellers and decision-makers.
Scenarios will be chosen to be useful to all decision-makers, including those at subglobal levels that present differing characteristics, such as in terms of the degree of law and order, financial systems or human and institutional capacity. Contacts will be maintained throughout the three phases with other organizations who may be doing scenario work in parallel.


The objectives of the project are to:

1. Develop a second generation of global scenarios to support linkages between socio-economic anticipatory decision-making and the global water system, including the identification of major risks and opportunities and alternative futures, and to provide a perspective for individual national and subnational scenario building.

2. Provide an interdisciplinary articulation of the current scientific understanding of the global water system, including major uncertainties and principal areas of agreement, using qualitative descriptions and quantitative projections, expert opinion and analysis of available information.

3. Support scenario building at the national and subnational scales, which will inform the global process and stimulate the interchange of experiences, mutual learning and reciprocal capacity-building among the interested groups.

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