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Lower Ebro basin

Project: CLICO
Country: Spain
Size: 330 km²


The lower Ebro basin (Ebro delta) in Spain is Catalonia's biggest wetland. However, it is also one of the country's ecosystems most threatened by climate change: if no measures are taken, a 0.5m increase in water levels is expected to produce the disappearance of approximately 50% of the delta. Human security issues associated with such a change are already present in the area where saltwater intrusion is making residents slowly abandon a local community. The delta hosts a number of livelihood-supporting activities whose disruption by rising sea levels would acutely endanger human security. Apart from fishing and aquaculture, the delta is home to considerable agricultural (rice growing) and tourist activities (which generate approximately 100 million euros annually).

As a response, regional planning authorities have initiated a process of selecting climate change adaptation measures whose implementation would make the delta the largest coastal area in Europe to jointly implement such measures. In the meantime, Ebro is also the locus of conflictive proposals for adaptation solutions for other areas. In April 2008, during the most intense springtime drought since records begin, the Spanish and Catalan governments suggested the diversion of the river in order to satisfy future drinking water needs of Barcelona themselves menaced by climate change. This produced the angry reaction of 30,000 Ebro residents and farmers who demonstrated against the water transfer to Barcelona on the grounds that it would endanger the rights of rural users to the resource.

This case study will analyse conflict over adaptation practices in an area of high vulnerability where impacts are not only likely to be great but are already felt; furthermore, the area is unique in that it is treated at the same time as the locus of both implementing and providing adaptation solutions. The case study will employ a political ecology approach to extend the narrow focus of the hydro-conflict literature on water scarcity and address questions of floods and adaptation conflict. This will allow making a much-needed connection between climate change vulnerability and security research and the burgeoning literature on the political ecology of environmental conflicts. In this way, the case study will contribute to furthering knowledge on the interaction of hazards with vulnerability and the study of causal routes between vulnerability, impacts, conflicts and security, which comprise principal research themes in CLICO.


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