Adaptive capacity indicators to assess sustainability of urban water systems - Current application.
| ID: mdl-27390059
Sustainability is commonly assessed along environmental, societal, economic and technological dimensions. A crucial aspect of sustainability is that inter-generational equality must be ensured. This requires that sustainability is attained in the here and now as well as into the future. Therefore, what is perceived as 'sustainable' changes as a function of societal opinion and technological and scientific progress. A concept that describes the ability of systems to change is adaptive capacity. Literature suggests that the ability of systems to adapt is an integral part of sustainable development. This paper demonstrates that indicators measuring adaptive capacity are underrepresented in current urban water sustainability studies. Furthermore, it is discussed under which sustainability dimensions adaptive capacity indicators are lacking and why. Of the >90 indicators analysed, only nine are adaptive capacity indicators, of which six are socio-cultural, two technological, one economical and none environmental. This infrequent use of adaptive capacity indicators in sustainability assessments led to the conclusion that the challenge of dynamic and uncertain urban water systems is, with the exception of the socio-cultural dimension, not yet sufficiently reflected in the application of urban water sustainability indicators. This raises concerns about the progress towards urban water systems that can transform as a response variation and change. Therefore, research should focus on developing methods and indicators that can define, evaluate and quantify adaptive capacity under the economic, environmental and technical dimension of sustainability. Furthermore, it should be evaluated whether sustainability frameworks that focus on the control processes of urban water systems are more suitable for measuring adaptive capacity, than the assessments along environmental, economic, socio-cultural and technological dimensions.