Climate Change and Water – A Story from Denmark

Water is at the heart of the climate crisis

Climate change poses huge challenges for the water sector as water will become scarcer, more unpredictable, more polluted or all of the above. Our work is crucial to secure adequate adaptation to climate change but we must make the right choices at the right time. “We cannot afford to wait” and “Everyone has a role to play” – These two sentences are among the key messages from UN Water for the World Water Day on the 22 March this year and they reflect discussions in the Danish water sector.

In 2019, Denmark was close to having a record-high precipitation and all over the country, we have challenges with rising groundwater levels. We see more extreme rainfall and know that seawater rise is on its way with an expected average of 70 cm in Denmark. This is challenging all of us but not least the cities, where the many people, roads and paved areas will feel the impact as water floats into the city.

Water is a threat when there is too little or too much of it. For this reason, we must start to adapt to climate change now and find ways to live with more water in our cities. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will become for all of us to develop efficient solutions and adapt to climate change in adequate ways.


Everyone has a role to play

Water is a valuable resource with the potential to create and recreate liveable cities with high quality of life. This is visible in Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense, Viborg and many other Danish cities where water and solutions for climate change adaptation go hand-in-hand with building new parks, playgrounds and green areas and increases both quality of life and urban value broadly speaking.

When climate change and urbanisation bring water to the urban surface, we need to include everyone in the discussions about the best solutions. Water professionals must meet urban planners, developers and the decision makers in the cities in order to develop solutions across disciplines and administrative borders.

We also need to engage the local citizens in the discussions. To use the words of IWA’s Principles for Water-Wise cities, we need to build Water-Wise Communities and this requires Water-wise citizens who can drive urban planning and design. They must understand risks and opportunities and we must be able to count on them to adapt their behaviour when necessary.


Photo credit – State of Green.  Climate resilient neighbourhood: This climate-resilient neighbourhood is Copenhagen’s first district adapted to climate change. The City of Copenhagen is developing the methods and expertise to be used when the rest of the municipality – over the next 20 years – is future-proofed against heavier rain and torrential downpours.


Contribution to meet the SDGs in 2030

If we manage to engage all stakeholders in the discussions and develop optimal solutions, this will also be a significant contribution to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals related to delivering Smart Liveable Cities.

How to make integrated solutions, engaging all stakeholders and professions, and respecting natural boundaries in situations, where we also face technical, organisational, financial and time constraints? This is an important discussion for us all. We should start this discussion now and continue towards the 2020 IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition in Copenhagen 18-23 October, where we look forward to engage with you in workshops, sessions and various forums. We all have a role to play.



Cover photo credit – State of Green. Climate adaptation: The square, Israels Plads, underwent a transformation designed by COBE a few years back. Formerly a car park, the square now includes an underground parking lot and the space above ground has been reserved for skate spots and basketball courts, which also double as climate adaptation initiatives. Please note that a graphic design has been added to the original photo.


Carl-Emil Larsen

Since 2005, Mr. Larsen is in office as CEO of DANVA, the Danish Water and Wastewater Association. Mr. Carl-Emil LARSEN has extensive national and international experience on water issues. He has spent the last 25 years working on water and environmen... Read full biography