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Water and Climate: Science Policy, and Security in the Face of Change and Uncertainty

Water and Climate

Spring 2010 Lecture Series

The world's fresh water resources cover nearly half of the Earth's land surface. Through climate modeling and other methods, scientists anticipate that climate change may affect both the supply of and demand for fresh water in different parts of the globe at different times.

How will countries govern Earth's fresh water supplies and equitably meet the growing demand? How will global water cycles be affected by climate change and global warming?

During the Spring 2010 lecture series, Water and Climate: Science, Policy and Security in the Face of Change and Uncertainty, four distinguished experts addressed critical issues including:

  • international concerns about water security;
  • the necessity of forming new dialogues between rich and poor on water;
  • management of the world's fresh water resources;
  • global governance of and international laws pertaining to fresh water supplies;
  • the need to ensure a socially and environmentally responsible adaptation to the possibility of changes in the global water cycle due to global warming.

John Waterbury

"Water and Climate: Enduring Collective Action Challenges"


John WaterburyProfessor Waterbury explores how management of the world’s fresh water resources in the face of climate change and global warming does not qualitatively change longstanding challenges to coordinated responses among stakeholders, and these challenges have been the focus of collective action theory and analysis for decades (perhaps millennia under different names). He addresses some of the core issues in both global governance as embodied in international water law and in the 260+ transboundary water courses and aquifers that affect over 40% of the earth’s land surface and well over half of the world’s population. Waterbury maintains that the supply and demand for fresh water will come into dynamic balance. The question he asks is will the balance be the result of coordinated action and cooperative management by the stakeholders or thrust upon all of us by business as usual?


John Waterbury is professor of political studies, American University of Beirut (AUB). Professor Waterbury was president of AUB from 1998 to 2008. Prior to joining AUB, he was professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs for nearly 20 years. Professor Waterbury's research focuses on the dynamics of collective action and cooperation.

Jerome Delli Priscoli

"Water, Security and Global Policy Responses"


Jerome Delli PriscoliDr. Delli Priscoli discusses world water situation and current policies responses to that situation. Using a historical context, he offers new ways to look at water, conflict and security. The lecture concluded by offering perspectives on ethical dimensions of water policy and with appeals to forming new dialogs between rich and poor on water.


Dr. Delli Priscoli is a senior advisor at the U.S. Corps of Engineers' Institute for Water Resources. He serves on the Board of Governors of the World Water Council (WWC), and he is the Editor in Chief of the journal Water Policy. He is a world leader in conflict management, water resources and security. Dr. Priscoli is the author of a number of books and publications on the socio-economic dimension of water and water policy including: Managing and Transforming Water Conflicts, Participation, Consensus Building, and Conflict Management Training Course (PDF) and Water and Civilization: Using History to Reframe Water Policy Debates and to Build a New Ecological Realism.

Charles Vörösmarty

"Water for a Crowded Planet: Lessons from the U.S. Northeast Corridor"


Charles VörösmartyVörösmarty’s lecture addresses the concept of human manipulation of the hydrologic cycle and the notion of how this control has evolved. He discusses the work of an interdisciplinary partnership that seeks to quantify the widespread alteration of hydrologic systems over local-to-regional domains, focusing on the Northeast Corridor of the United States from 1600 to 2100, referred to as "The 500-Year Challenge."


Charles Vörösmarty is Professor of Civil Engineering, The City University of New York; Distinguished Scientist, NOAA CREST Cooperative Remote Sensing Science and Technology Center; and Director, CUNY Environmental Cross-Roads Initiative. Vörösmarty's research interests focus on the development of computer models and geospatial data sets used in synthesis studies of the interactions among the water cycle, climate, biogeochemistry and anthropogenic activities.

Kathleen Miller

"Science, Politics and Crystal Balls — Building Effective Approaches to Water Adaptation Planning"


Kathleen MillerDr. Miller presents research showing that while the general characteristics of future changes in the global water cycle are beginning to emerge from climate modeling efforts, the specific regional details of changes in precipitation, flood hazards, water availability, and water quality are far from clear. This leaves water users, resource managers, and policy makers in the uncomfortable position of knowing that future water resource conditions are likely to be very different from those of the past, but not knowing the magnitude, or perhaps even the direction of those changes. To ensure socially and environmentally responsible adaptation, attention will be needed to both objectives and process. She shows how, in particular, it will be important to focus on planning options that are robust to uncertainty; resilient to surprise; and readily adaptable to changing conditions and new information. With respect to process, she suggests there will be a growing need to facilitate the development of institutional environments that can reduce the potential for conflict. This will require providing voice for a wide range of water-related interests while fostering shared understandings of rights, obligations and the likely consequences of alternative policies under a range of possible future conditions.


Dr. Miller is a scientist III working with the Institute for the Study of Society and Environment (ISSE) at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. She is an economist who collaborates in multidisciplinary research on climate impacts, vulnerability and adaptation.

Important Dates

February 24, 2010
"Water and Climate: Enduring Collective Action Challenges," John Waterbury, Robertson Hall, Bowl 1, 4:30 p.m.

March 3, 2010
"Water, Security and Global Policy Responses," Jerry Delli Priscoli, Robertson Hall, Bowl 1, 4:30 p.m.

March 10, 2010
"Water for a Crowded Planet: Lessons from the U.S. Northeast Corridor," Charles Vörösmarty, Robertson Hall, Bowl 2, 4:30 p.m.

April 14, 2010
"Science, Politics and Crystal Balls — Building Effective Approaches to Water Adaptation Planning," Kathleen Miller, Robertson Hall, Bowl 1, 4:30 p.m.