The world is facing an impending water crisis, with demand expected to exceed fresh water supplies by 40% by the end of this decade, experts said on the eve of a crucial UN water summit.
Governments must urgently stop subsidizing water extraction and overuse with misdirected agricultural subsidies, and industries from mining to manufacturing must be made to reform their wasteful practices, according to Historical report on the economics of water.
Countries must begin to manage water as a global shared good, because most countries are highly dependent on their neighbors for water supplies, and overuse, pollution and the climate crisis threaten water supplies globally, say the report’s authors.
Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-chair of the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, and lead author of the report, told the Guardian that the world’s neglect of water resources has led to disaster. “The scientific evidence is that we have a water crisis. We are misusing the water, polluting the water, changing the whole global hydrological cycle, through what we’re doing to the climate. It’s a triple crisis.”
Mariana Mazzucato, Co-Chair of the Global Commission on the Economics of Water at Rockstrom, Professor at University College London and lead author of the report, added: “We need a more proactive, ambitious and mutually beneficial approach. We have to put justice and fairness at the heart of this, it’s not just a technological or financial issue. “.
The report marks the first time that the global water system has been comprehensively examined, and its value to countries – and the risks to their prosperity if water is neglected – are spelled out in clear terms. As with the Stern Review of the Economics of the Climate Crisis in 2006 and Dasgupta’s Review of the Economics of Biodiversity in 2021, the report’s authors hope to shed light on the crisis in a way that Policymakers and economists can learn about it.
Many governments still don’t realize how interconnected they are when it comes to water, according to Rockstrom. Most countries depend for nearly half of their water supplies on evaporation of water from neighboring countries – known as “green” water because it is held in the soil and produced from transpiration in forests and other ecosystems, when plants absorb water from the soil and release vapor into the air from their leaves.
The report identifies seven key recommendations, including reshaping the global governance of water resources, expanding investment in water management through public-private partnerships, pricing water correctly, and creating “fair water partnerships” to raise financing for water projects in the development and central regions. income countries.
More than $700 billion (£575 billion) in subsidies globally goes into agriculture and water each year, and this often leads to excessive water consumption. The report found that water leaks also must be addressed urgently, and restoring freshwater systems such as wetlands should be another priority.
Water is central to the climate crisis and the global food crisis. “There will be no agricultural revolution unless we fix the water,” Rockstrom said. “Behind all these challenges we face, there is always water, and we never talk about water.”
Many of the ways in which water is used are inefficient and in need of change, as Rockstrom points out to sewage systems in developed countries. “It is remarkable that we use safe fresh water to transport excrement, urine, nitrogen and phosphorus – hence the need for inefficient sewage treatment plants that leak 30% of all nutrients into aquatic ecosystems downstream, destroying them and causing dead zones. We really need to put ourselves in terms of this linear, water-borne waste handling system. Huge innovations are needed.”
the United Nations Water Summit, led by the governments of the Netherlands and Tajikistan, in New York on March 22. World leaders are invited but only a few are expected to attend, with most nations represented by ministers or high-ranking officials. It will be the first time in more than four decades that the United Nations has met to discuss water, with previous attempts stymied by governments reluctant to accept any form of international management of the resource.
Henk Ovink, the Netherlands’ special envoy for international water affairs, told the Guardian the conference was important. “If we have any hope of solving the climate crisis, our biodiversity crisis and other global challenges related to food, energy and health, we need to fundamentally change our approach to how we value and manage water,” he said. “[This] It is the best opportunity we have to put water at the center of global action to ensure that people, crops and the environment continue to have the water they need.”
Seven calls to action on water
Managing the global water cycle as a global shared good, must be protected collectively and in the interest of our common interests.
Ensure safe and sufficient water for every vulnerable group, and work with industry to scale up investment in water.
Stop overpricing for water. Appropriate pricing and targeted subsidies will allow the poor to use water more efficiently, equitably, and sustainably.
Cut the more than $700 billion in agriculture and water subsidies each year, which often fuel excessive water consumption, and reduce leaks in water systems.
Creating “fair water partnerships” that can mobilize funds for low- and middle-income countries.
Take urgent action this decade on issues such as restoring depleted wetland and groundwater resources, and recycling water used by industry; moving to precision agriculture that uses water more efficiently; and companies reporting their “water footprint”.
Reforming water governance at the international level, and including water in trade agreements. Governance must also take into account women, farmers, indigenous peoples and others on the front lines of water conservation.
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