Addressing the global water crisis through collective action

Cover of "Turning the Tide: A Call to Collective Action," by the Global Commission on the Economics of Water

A sustainable and just water future can be achieved; however, it requires a significant change in how we value, manage, and use water.

We read Turning the Tide: A Call to Collective Action, by the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, which was published this month, and share the following synopsis.

A systemic water crisis headed for massive collective failure

Our current systemic water crisis is growing into a global tragedy on local and global levels. Nations and regions are connected through the water cycle in profound ways. More than two billion people still lack access to safe water. The report points out that one child under five dies every 80 seconds from diseases caused by polluted water.

This water crisis is also linked to climate change and the loss of biodiversity. The global energy imbalance intensifies the water cycle, “adding about 7% of moisture for each 1°C of global mean temperature rise.” Deforestation and depletion of wetlands and land degradation impact precipitation patterns, soil moisture and vapor (green water), and runoff and liquid flows (blue water). Extreme events in the forms of unprecedented floods and droughts, cyclonic storms, and heat waves have caused a devastating toll on human suffering, and in some cases, wiped out decades of human development in weeks.

The report points out that the water crisis imperils all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

…from SDG 6, ensuring universal access to safe water and sanitation; to food security and health; to ending poverty and inequalities; to enabling trade for sustainable growth; to our chances of delivering the Paris Climate Agreement, and avoiding conflict within and across borders.

Another contributor to the water crisis is water mismanagement. We have failed to preserve freshwater ecosystems, manage overuse, prevent contamination, and develop and share water-saving technologies. The report notes that we face the prospect of a “40% shortfall in freshwater supply by 2030, with severe shortages in water-constrained regions.”

Water also plays a role in climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, including the protection wetlands provide against floods and droughts.

Hope through collective solutions

The report points out that a sustainable and just water future can be achieved; however, it requires a significant change in how we value, manage and use water. This collective action begins with treating water as our most “precious global collective good, essential to protecting all ecosystems and all life.”

Collective solutions enable us to reinvigorate our economies, benefit people globally, and unlock progress on the SDGs. However, we must act urgently with a collective resolution.

Seven-point call to collective action

The report sets out a seven-point Call to Collective Action which provides a path for immediate implementation. The Call to Collective Action includes the following requirements:

  1. Manage the global water cycle as a global common good, to be protected collectively and in the interests of all. It requires the recognition that communities and nations are connected regionally and globally and that water is critical to food security as well as all the SDGs. In addition, water justice and equity are required to put water on a sustainable trajectory.

  2. Adopt an outcomes-focused, mission-driven approach to water encompassing all the key roles it plays in human well-being. We must deliver on the human right to safe water and act collectively to stabilize the global water cycle. We can act collectively by mobilizing multiple stakeholders, public, private, and civil society as well as local communities.

  3. Cease underpricing water. We need to properly price water and provide targeted support for the poor. We need to also account for water’s non-economic value in decision-making to ensure we protect nature and our biodiversity.

  4. Phase out some $700 billion of subsidies in agriculture and water yearly, which tend to generate excessive water consumption and other environmentally damaging practices. We also need to reduce leakages in water systems (“non-revenue water”) that cost billions annually and prioritize sustained maintenance efforts. The report also calls for the acceleration of water footprint disclosures.

  5. Establish Just Water Partnerships (JWPs) to enable investments in water access, resilience and sustainability in low- and middle-income countries, using approaches that contribute to both national development goals and the global common.

  6. Move forward at scale on opportunities that can move the needle significantly in the current decade such as fortifying freshwater storage systems, developing the urban circular water economy, reducing water footprints in manufacturing, and shifting agriculture to precision irrigation and less water-intensive crops.

  7. Reshape multilateral governance of water, which is currently fragmented and not fit for purpose. Trade policy must be used as a tool for more sustainable use of water, by incorporating water conservation standards, highlighting wasteful water subsidies, and ensuring that trade policies do not exacerbate water scarcity in water-stressed regions.

The report describes the need to learn from past failures. Our past approaches have been too narrow, too local, too short-sighted, too divided, and too incremental. We can correct these failings with more systems thinking and bolder collective actions at local to global levels to manage water in a more integrated, inclusive, and effective way.

A new framework for the economics of water calls for managing the global water cycle and regarding water as a global common good to be protected collectively and in the interests of all.

The report cries out for a new social contract with an integrated, holistic approach that places justice and equity at the center of our actions. It ends with a reference to learning from the wisdom of Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities who understand and treasure water as a shared resource, across generations.

IPCC’s Synthesis Report of the Six Assessment Report (AR6 SYR) to be published in March 2023

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is in the final stages of its Sixth Assessment cycle. Be on the lookout for its AR6 SYR on March 20, 2023.

Every 6 to 7 years, the IPCC publishes comprehensive scientific assessment reports. The last report, the Fifth Assessment Report completed in 2014, provided the main scientific input to the Paris Agreement. Be on the lookout for the Synthesis Report of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6 SYR) on its scheduled release date of March 20, 2023.

The IPCC is a UN body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change. The body provides political leaders with periodic scientific assessments about climate change. It also covers climate implications, risks, as well as adaptation and mitigation strategies. The assessments help governments develop climate policies. They also offer input into the international negotiations to tackle climate change.

For the assessment reports, experts worldwide volunteer their time as IPCC authors. The IPCC authors evaluate thousands of scientific papers published each year. They provide a comprehensive summary of climate change. They summary includes ways in which adaptation and mitigation can reduce the risks imposed by our changing climate. The IPCC reports are drafted and reviewed in several stages to guarantee objectivity and transparency.

The AR6 SYR covers the content of three Working Groups Assessment Reports: WGI – The Physical Science BasisWGII – Impacts, Adaptation and VulnerabilityWGIII – Mitigation of Climate Change, and the three Special Reports: Global Warming of 1.5°CClimate Change and LandThe Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

The AR6 SYR style is non-technical, in the six official UN languages. It consists of two parts, a Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of 5 to 10 pages and a Longer Report of 30 to 50 pages.

We’re looking forward to reading the report and sharing key takeaways.

‘The biggest conservation victory ever!’ Global treaty to protect oceans reached

Photo of coral reef by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash.
Photo of a coral reef by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash.

“This is a historic day for conservation and a sign that in a divided world, protecting nature and people can triumph over geopolitics,” said Greenpeace in response to an agreement to protect world’s marine biodiversity.

By Jon Queally, Common Dreams

Ocean conservationists expressed elation late Saturday after it was announced—following nearly two decades of consideration and effort—that delegates from around the world had agreed to language for a far-reaching global treaty aimed at protecting the biodiversity on the high seas and in the deep oceans of the world.

“This is a historic day for conservation and a sign that in a divided world, protecting nature and people can triumph over geopolitics,” declared Dr. Laura Meller, the oceans campaigner for Greenpeace Nordic.

“We praise countries for seeking compromises, putting aside differences, and delivering a Treaty that will let us protect the oceans, build our resilience to climate change and safeguard the lives and livelihoods of billions of people,” Meller added.

The final text of the Global Ocean Treaty, formally referred to as the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction treaty (BBNJ), was reached after a two-week round of talks that concluded with a 48-hour marathon push between delegations at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

“This is huge,” said Greenpeace in a social media post, calling the agreement “the biggest conservation victory ever!”

Rena Lee of Singapore, the U.N Ambassador for Oceans and president of the conference hosting the talks, received a standing ovation after announcing a final deal had been reached. “The shipped has reached the shore,” Lee told the conference.

“Following a two-week-long rollercoaster ride of negotiations and super-hero efforts in the last 48 hours, governments reached agreement on key issues that will advance protection and better management of marine biodiversity in the High Seas,” said Rebecca Hubbard, director of the High Seas Alliance, a coalition of over 40 ocean-focused NGOs that also includes the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Minna Epps, director of the Global Marine and Polar Programme at the IUCN, said the agreement represents a new opportunity.

“The High Seas Treaty opens the path for humankind to finally provide protection to marine life across our one ocean,” Epps said in a statement. “Its adoption closes essential gaps in international law and offers a framework for governments to work together to protect global ocean health, climate resilience, and the socioeconomic wellbeing and food security of billions of people.”

Protecting the world’s high seas, which refers to areas of the oceans outside the jurisdiction of any country, is part of the larger push to protect planetary biodiversity and seen as key if nations want to keep their commitment to the UN-brokered Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework—also known as the known as the 30×30 pledge—that aims protect 30 percent of the world’s natural habitat by 2030.

“With currently just over 1% of the High Seas protected,” said the High Seas Alliance in a statement, “the new Treaty will provide a pathway to establish marine protected areas in these waters.” The group said the treaty will make acheiving the goals of the Kunming-Montreal agreement possible, but that “time is of the essence” for the world’s biodiversity.

“The new Treaty will bring ocean governance into the 21st century,” said the group, “including establishing modern requirements to assess and manage planned human activities that would affect marine life in the High Seas as well as ensuring greater transparency. This will greatly strengthen the effective area-based management of fishing, shipping, and other activities that have contributed to the overall decline in ocean health.”

According to Greenpeace’s assessment of the talks:

The High Ambition Coalition, which includes the EU, US and UK, and China were key players in brokering the deal. Both showed willingness to compromise in the final days of talks, and built coalitions instead of sowing division. Small Island States have shown leadership throughout the process, and the G77 group led the way in ensuring the Treaty can be put into practice in a fair and equitable way.

The fair sharing of monetary benefits from Marine Genetic Resources was a key sticking point. This was only resolved on the final day of talks. The section of the Treaty on Marine Protected Areas does away with broken consensus-based decision making which has failed to protect the oceans through existing regional bodies like the Antarctic Ocean Commission. While there are still major issues in the text, it is a workable Treaty that is a starting point for protecting 30% of the world’s oceans.

The group said it is now urgent for governments around the world to take the final step of ratifying the treaty.

“We can now finally move from talk to real change at sea. Countries must formally adopt the Treaty and ratify it as quickly as possible to bring it into force, and then deliver the fully protected ocean sanctuaries our planet needs,” Meller said. “The clock is still ticking to deliver 30×30. We have half a decade left, and we can’t be complacent.”