The world is facing an imminent water crisis and demand is expected to outstrip freshwater supply by 40% by the end of this decade, experts said ahead of an important UN water summit.
Governments must urgently stop subsidizing extraction and overuse of water through unearmarked agricultural subsidies, and businesses from mining to manufacturing must reconsider their wasteful practices. historical record on water economics.
Governments must start managing water as a “global asset” because most countries are highly dependent on their neighbors for water supplies, and overuse, pollution and the climate crisis threaten water resources around the world, the report’s authors say.
Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and lead author of the report, told the Guardian that the world’s current neglect of water resources is leading to disaster. “Scientific evidence suggests that we have a water crisis. We are misusing water, polluting water and changing the entire global hydrological cycle through what we do with the climate. It’s a triple crisis.”
Mariana Mazzucato, an economist and professor at University College London and lead author, added: “We need a much more proactive and ambitious approach focused on the common good. We need to put fairness and equity at the center of this, it’s not just a technological or financial issue.”
For the first time, the report takes a comprehensive look at the global water system and lays out its value to countries, as well as the risks to their prosperity associated with neglecting water. As with Stern’s 2006 review of the economics of the climate crisis and Dasgupta’s 2021 review of the economics of biodiversity, the authors of the report hope to highlight the crisis in a way that politicians and economists can recognize.
Many governments still don’t realize how interdependent they are when it comes to water, Rockstrom said. Most countries consume about half of their water through the evaporation of water from neighboring countries, known as “green” water because it is found in the soil and delivered by transpiration in forests and other ecosystems, when plants absorb water from the soil and release vapor into the air from their plants. leaves.
The report sets out seven key recommendations, including changing global water management, increasing investment in water management through public-private partnerships, setting appropriate water prices, and establishing “equitable water partnerships” to raise funding for water projects in developing and medium-sized countries. countries of income.
More than $1 trillion (£830 billion) in subsidies worldwide goes to agriculture and water every year, often resulting in excessive water consumption. The water leak also needs to be fixed urgently, the report says, and restoring freshwater systems like wetlands should be another priority.
Water is fundamental to the climate crisis and the global food crisis. “There will be no agricultural revolution if we don’t fix the water,” Rockstrom said. “Behind all these problems that we face, there is always water, and we never talk about water.”
Many ways of using water are inefficient and need to be changed, and Rockström points to the sewer systems of developed countries. “It is amazing that we use safe fresh water to transport excreta, urine, nitrogen, phosphorus, and then have to have inefficient treatment plants that pass 30% of all nutrients to downstream aquatic ecosystems, destroy them and create dead zones. We are actually fooling ourselves in terms of this linear, watery modern waste management system. Massive innovation is required.”
V UN Water Summit, led by the governments of the Netherlands and Tajikistan, will be held in New York on March 22. World leaders have been invited, but only a few are expected to attend, with most countries represented by ministers or senior officials. This will be the first time in over four decades that the UN will meet to discuss water resources, with previous attempts blocked by governments unwilling to support any form of international resource management.
Henk Ovink, special envoy for international water issues in the Netherlands, told the Guardian the conference was critical. “If we have any hope of solving our climate crisis, our biodiversity crisis and other global issues related to food, energy and health, we need to radically change the way we approach how we value and manage water,” he said. “[This] this is the best opportunity we have to put water at the center of global action so that people, crops and the environment continue to get the water they need.”
Seven calls to action for water
Manage the global water cycle as a global common good that must be protected collectively and in our common interest.
Ensure safe and sufficient water for every vulnerable group and work with industry to increase investment in water resources.
Stop underestimating the price of water. Proper pricing and targeted support for the poor will enable water to be used more efficiently, more equitably and more sustainably.
Cut more than $1 trillion in agriculture and water subsidies annually, which often lead to excessive water consumption, and reduce leaks in water systems.
Establish “equitable water partnerships” that can mobilize funds for low- and middle-income countries.
Take urgent action this decade on issues such as restoring wetlands and depleted groundwater resources, reusing industrial water; transition to precision farming, which uses water more efficiently; and receiving reports from companies on their water footprint.
Reform water management at the international level and include water in trade agreements. Management must also take into account women, farmers, indigenous peoples and others who are at the forefront of water conservation.