Climate is water, so why does the world keep missing the boat?
The urgent need to ramp up global efforts to tackle the climate crisis will be top of the agenda at a series of major international events over the coming year, starting this week in New York. But it’s likely that two key dimensions of these vitally important policy dialogues will continue to be relegated to the sidelines — and both relate directly to freshwater resources.
It is, of course, essential for governments and businesses to continue focussing on how best to reduce emissions to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. But it is clear that the continued emphasis on mitigation strategies instead of a more balanced mitigation and adaptation approach has resulted in insufficient attention and resources flowing towards vulnerable communities and sectors, which are already feeling the destructive impacts of global warming and climate variability — destructive impacts that are primarily being felt through water.
Meanwhile, the already underwhelming progress on adaptation continues to be skewed towards forests, neglecting equally important climate responses that prioritize the conservation or restoration of healthy rivers and wetlands — which must be at the heart of the climate agenda.
This is why WWF and AB InBev have just published a new report — Climate Change and Water: Why valuing rivers is critical to adaptation. It highlights the fact that water is now the dominant way in which material climate impacts are manifesting in everyday life.
You only have to pick up a paper or click on Twitter to hear about another historic drought or 500-year flood and its impact on communities and companies. The report also stresses that managing our freshwater resources better — including investing in nature-based solutions — is central to global adaptation efforts and to building more climate resilient societies, economies and ecosystems.
There is no doubt that climate change is going to exacerbate threats to our rivers and wetlands, and to the timing, quantity and quality of the world’s water supplies. But there is also no doubt that freshwater can help mitigate local and global climate risks — that it is an under-recognised and under-valued lever for adaptation.
It is time for the formal climate discussions to show a deeper appreciation of the importance of promoting water as a climate adaptation vehicle and source of funding from key climate financial instruments. Rivers, lakes and wetlands are important building blocks of our societies, supporting nature and driving the economy. Yet they are under ever-increasing pressure across the world and safeguarding their health remains way down the list of global priorities.
Transforming how the world values and manages our priceless freshwater resources is the most powerful way to adapt to the climate crisis — for people, business and nature. Governments and businesses must pursue water policies, practices and investments that recognize — and factor in — the diverse benefits of healthy freshwater systems. Innovative policies and financial approaches — such as WWF’s Bankable Water Solutions initiative, which has been supported by AB InBev — will not only improve water security and freshwater biodiversity, but also boost overall resilience to climate change.
We cannot only measure progress on climate negotiations by tonnes of emissions saved. We must also consider the impact on vulnerable communities and societies, which depend directly on freshwater ecosystems for their livelihoods, food, energy and housing. To ensure the future of such communities — which may find it particularly hard to adapt to projected changes — it is critical to protect the health of the world’s freshwater ecosystems through rebalancing climate decisions with an enhanced focus on adaptation and financing freshwater conservation as a priority response.