Much of the talking at climate change negotiations ahead of a big gathering in Copenhagen [COP15] in December 2009 has been focusing on emissions, prompting campaigners at this week’s Barcelona meeting to point out that water is also critical to the success of any efforts to adapt to the impact of climate change.
The way that water is managed in and between countries is a vital component of future planning. Water is also crucial to many mitigation activities, including hydropower, agriculture and forestry projects.
“Let me be very clear, there is no development without water,” said Pasquale Steduto, chair of UN-Water and service chief at the Food and Agricultural Organisation.
“There is no food security without water. There is most likely also no energy security without water,” Steduto added in a statement. “Water is the primary medium through which climate change influences the earth’s ecosystems and therefore people’s livelihoods and well-being. If water is not further recognized in adaptation strategies and plans, we are making a big mistake.”
To a large extent, the global climate crisis is a global water crisis. The campaigners’ warning comes against a backdrop of drought and famine as many developing countries begin to experience the devastating impact of climate change on the water cycle.
Water experts have long warned that this may lead to an increase in conflicts related to water availability and distribution.
Extreme weather events leading to drought and floods, as recently witnessed in Kenya and the Philippines, are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity, possibly as a result of climate change.
“Even with the best mitigation strategies, water related effects of climate change will come,” said Anders Berntell, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute. “The challenge for many nations is how to adapt. Climate change is in effect water change, since it will be through water that the changes will be realised first and foremost.”
Yet the latest draft of the negotiating text on adaptation, the so-called Non-Paper No. 31, has deleted any clear references to water and its management as a vital consideration for climate change adaptation, the campaigners say. This is despite mounting pressure from the water community for a strong outcome on water from Copenhagen.
To make sure water is at the top of the agenda, governments, UN agencies, international NGOs and civil society advocates gathered at a “Water Day” event at UN climate talks in Barcelona on 3 November to urge negotiators to consider the critical role that water plays in climate change adaptation.
They highlighted five key points in the water and climate change debate:
Climate change impacts on water resources will affect livelihoods and development .
90 percent of the 3 billion people who are expected to be added to the population by 2050 will be in developing countries, many in regions already under water stress conditions. Integrated land and water management arrangements will be critical to manage water flexibly among competing users, prioritising human needs.
Climate change adaptation is not just a national issue
More than 75 percent of the world’s nations have shared river basins within their boundaries. Regional co-operation on climate change adaptation will be vital for addressing climate change impacts on shared water resources, even as a way to prevent potential conflicts.
Investing in ecosystems can help preserve water supplies
Ecosystems build resilience to climate change. Healthy ecosystems need water and in turn help maintain a healthy water cycle. Care must be taken that climate change mitigation activities do not damage and degrade ecosystems, and that adaptation efforts prioritise their preservation. This is critical not least to food security.
Data, information and governance are key
Understanding climate change impacts on water resources will require enhanced data collection and sharing, and increased capacity for gathering and using data. However, climate change impacts are being felt now and improving water governance arrangements to respond to uncertainty and variability will be the key to good adaptation.
Climate change mitigation efforts must take water into account
The projected increase in hydropower and bio-energy to meet low-carbon energy needs will depend heavily on sustained water flows and water availability. Projected changes in the water cycle as a result of climate change must therefore be taken into account. Building dams for water storage and energy needs must be done in the context of understanding and mitigating potentially negative impacts on human populations and the environment. Bio-energy must be balanced with food security and ecosystem protection.
See also: SEAL THE DEAL: Climate change illustrates need for better water management, UN News Centre, 03 Nov 2009 and the joint Water Day press release “Water evaporates from the climate change negotiating text” by SIWI, UN-Water and Stakeholder Forum, 03 Nov 2009
Source: Astrid Zweynert, Reuters Alertnet, 03 Nov 2009