Byron Reese, Speaker, Author, Entrepreneur

John Matthews on Ecology & Global Water Adaptation

Navigating Waters of Change with John Matthews: Ecology and Global Water Adaptation

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In this episode, we delve into the inspiring journey of John Matthews, Executive Director of the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA). John recounts his transformation from a publishing professional to a pivotal figure in environmental conservation, emphasizing his doctoral research on dragonflies and their aquatic life cycle. His experiences, influenced by early climate impact ecologists, led him to contemplate the intricate relationship between species, ecosystems, and evolving climate conditions. This reflection propelled him towards specializing in water, recognizing it as a crucial medium for expressing climate change impacts.

John’s career took a significant turn when he joined WWF, spearheading a novel freshwater climate adaptation program. His global travels and observations of water and climate issues in various contexts, from ecosystems to urban infrastructures, underscored the enormity of the challenge and the need for a comprehensive approach. This revelation, coupled with a collaborative workshop organized with economist Diego Rodriguez, culminated in the founding of AGWA in 2010. AGWA, under John’s leadership, has grown into a global network of over 2500 members, working across disciplines to bridge knowledge gaps in climate resilience and water management. The episode concludes with John’s insights into the dynamic nature of water systems and the urgent need to adapt our water management strategies in the face of climate change.



John H. Matthews is Executive Director for the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA), co-founded in 2010 with the World Bank. John began work on climate impacts ecology in 2003 before transitioning in 2007 to become a resilience scientist. His work integrates both technical and policy approaches for climate resilience and adaptation. In 2016, John co-chaired the first Water Day at a UNFCCC climate conference. In 2018 alone, he directly advised more than 100 countries on their national climate adaptation commitments. Between 2014 and 2021, he led the development of water resilience criteria for the green and climate bonds market, which have been used to certify more than 15 billion USD to date across investments on six continents. In 2018, UNESCO published a novel water-centric climate risk reduction methodology called CRIDA, whose development over six years was led by John. To date, CRIDA has been implemented in more than 30 countries globally, including its adoption by several US state agencies. Since 2013, he has led or co-led the publication of innovative guidance on emerging approaches, such as resilient nature-based solutions. Current work includes both large-scale technical climate risk assessments, developing ecological resilience indicators, leading the development and implementation of a national climate planning tool, working with businesses to incorporate resilience within operations, and coordinating a program to engage macroeconomic planners and decision makers to blend resilience with traditional economic evaluation approaches.

Since 2007, John has worked in dozens of countries. He has published widely, including in Science, Nature Climate Change, PLoS One, Water Security, and PLoS Biology. Under his leadership, AGWA has become the official voice of water in the UNFCCC, and AGWA directly advises many national governments, corporations, many UN agencies, the European Union, key financial institutions, and diverse aspects of civil society on water-related climate risks. AGWA is notably partnering with the UN to define and implement the CASTT Adaptation Academy curriculum for national adaptation decision makers. Beyond AGWA, John is a Senior Water Fellow at Colorado State University and Water Resources Courtesy Faculty at Oregon State University. He has a doctorate in ecology from the University of Texas, Austin.




Key Takeaways:

  • The inception of his career in water adaptation and resilience with WWF, leading a global freshwater climate adaptation program.
  • The founding of AGWA in 2010, catalyzed by a pivotal workshop and the need for an interdisciplinary approach to water and climate challenges.
  • AGWA’s growth into a global network, addressing critical issues in climate resilience and water management with diverse stakeholders.
  • The evolution of water management strategies in response to changing climate conditions and the emphasis on understanding water systems and cycles.

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