World Water Day, held on March 22nd every year, focuses on the importance of freshwater in our lives. This day highlights the importance of water resources and raises awareness to address the world water crisis, where 2.2 billion people still live without access to safe drinking water, as well to work towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6: clean water and sanitation for all by 2030.
Furthermore, currently an estimated 3.6 billion people across the world live in areas where water is scarce for at least one month a year, and according to the United Nations World Water Development Report, they could reach 4.8 to 5.7 billion by 2050, leading to an unprecedented struggle among water users, regardless of political boundaries.
Currently an estimated 3.6 billion people across the world live in areas where they already experience water scarcity at least one month per year
The theme for this year could be no other than climate change, as it already happened with World Wetlands Day 2019. The great challenge of our time. Water cycle variability increases as a result of climate change, leading to extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, which are increasingly more frequent and severe, and have devastating economic, social and environmental consequences. Moreover, extreme weather has caused more than 90% of the major disasters over the past decade. And although there are many voices that want to deny it, the worst natural disasters of the 21st century have been caused by this phenomenon, leading to lack of resources that forces millions of people to flee from their homes. In these cases, basic services are the first to suffer the impact of climate change, specially water services, where climate-resilient water supply and sanitation could save the lives of more than 360,000 infants every year (UN, 2020)
Worldwide, the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) , assessed the impact of climate change on hydrology and noted that the changes in the global water cycle will not be uniform. This variability is shown in the climate risk maps published by the European Environment Agency, showing how different regions could be affected by climate change impacts.
However, this close relationship between the climate phenomenon and water resources means appropriate water management can help mitigate its effects. To this effect, as the UN points out, if we limit global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, we could cut climate-induced water stress by up to 50%.
The world's climate crisis is linked to water in every respect
The world's climate crisis is linked to water in every respect. Society perceives many of the impacts of the climate crisis through water resources, due to the close relationship with other sectors such as agriculture, health, energy or transport, something reflected in how SDG 6 is linked to the remaining goals.
According to UNESCO, water is an enabling or limiting factor for any social and technological development, a possible source of welfare or misery, cooperation or conflict. In this regard, water is not only essential for almost all of our goods and services, it is also the most important and widely used source of renewable energy: hydro power, representing 19% of the world's total electricity production (WMO).
“I call on all stakeholders to increase climate action and invest in robust adaptation measures for water sustainability. By limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world will be in a much better position to manage and solve the water crisis that we all face” - António Guterres
Why are water and climate change inextricably linked?
According to the UN, the increasing demands of a growing population and rapidly developing global economy, combined with the effects of climate change, will exacerbate lack of access to water and sanitation for domestic uses.
That is why the water-climate change nexus requires that climate policy and approaches at the national and regional level integrate both of them. Whereas measures introduced to reduce GHG emissions have direct implications for water resource use and management, water extraction and management measures, on their part, have an impact on carbon emissions due to the energy intensity of water treatment and distribution systems (UN-Water Policy brief on climate change and water 2019). According to IPPC reports:
- Freshwater-related risks of climate change increase significantly with increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations.
- For each degree of global warming, approximately 7 per cent of the global population is projected to be exposed to a decrease of renewable water resources of at least 20 per cent.
- Since the mid-twentieth century, socioeconomic losses from flooding have increased mainly due to greater exposure and vulnerability.
Water is part of the solution
Whereas in 2019 World Water Day focused on leaving no one behind, it is now time to look at the future addressing today's challenge: climate change.
Given relentless population growth, by 2040 the global water demand is expected to increase by more than 50%. Climate change reduces the predictability of water availability, decreases water quality and threatens sustainable development, impacts which affect differently all world regions. It is, therefore, a global threat that must be dealt with in all areas, and although water is the most affected resource by climate change, it is also part of the solution.
Although water is the most affected resource by climate change, it is also part of the solution
Water is not only at the core of the goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, but also improved water management, including sanitation, is an essential element of the strategies promoted by the Paris Agreement for climate change adaptation and mitigation. This reciprocal relationship between climate change mitigation measures and water means we have before us the opportunity to rethink water governance and water resource management systems.
Climate change mitigation options include Nature Based Solutions (NBS), (the theme of World Water Day 2018), which use or mimic natural processes to enhance water availability, improve water quality and reduce the risks associated with water-related disasters. And there is also technology, namely water infrastructure and planning and management processes for water extraction, distribution, and treatment.
This way, with water as a factor that enables and at the same time limits the capacity of humankind to mitigate and adapt to climate change, transforming current governance and management systems and increasing the coherence of global frameworks are the tools we have available to tackle today's challenge. Inaction is no longer an option.