They also teach another lesson: Natural resource challenges like water scarcity cannot simply be viewed as environmental issues. They are real, material drivers of risk that governments, businesses, and investors must carefully consider in the context of the global economy.
This piece was authored by Jon Freedman, Global Government Relations Leader for GE Power & Water. It originally ran on May 12th on GreenBiz.
Last weekend, Jessica Yu's new water documentary "Last Call at the Oasis" took us on tour of the impacts water scarcity is creating around the globe, from the parched pastures of Australia's farmlands to the sewage-polluted banks of the Jordan River. This film shines a much-needed light on the various water challenges we all now face at a critical time. The numbers alone are eye-opening.
If current water usage trends continue, by 2025, two-thirds of the world's population -- or 5.3 billion people -- will be vulnerable to water shortages. What many here in the U.S. may not know is that we are far from immune to water stress. One need look no further than Texas, where a record-breaking drought last year created massive water shortages that significantly impacted the state's water supplies, agriculture and industry.
For many companies, water issues have recently migrated from corporations’ social responsibility departments to finance and risk management departments. Companies have been reporting a growing exposure to water-related risks like flooding and pollution, and many have already started to experience water-related business impacts.
This trend prompted WRI’s Markets and Enterprise Program to build a tool to help companies and investors identify water-related risks across their operations or portfolios. The tool, named the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, is based on an indicator framework that quantifies and maps different drivers of water risk, otherwise known as the Water Risk Framework. After testing this framework in various regions, WRI recently released its revised version. This updated framework will eventually be used to assess water risks in every part of the world.
Let me ‘fess up. The state of the environment sometimes gets me down. But to be fair, Earth’s vital signs would drive any respectable emergency room doctor into a state of utter panic. Globally, two thirds of ecosystem services, such as freshwater, pollination, natural hazard regulation, have been degraded in the past 50 years. Annual rates of growth in yields of many basic crops have declined over the past 20 years. The effects of global climate change are already being felt around the world.
But attending the Ceres annual conference this week gave me a refreshing dose of optimism. Ceres, a coalition of investors, environmental organizations, and other public interest groups, drew together hundreds of businesses, investors, and non-profits to share innovative approaches for corporate sustainability. Here are three rays of hope from the conference.
Around the world and throughout every sector of the economy, companies and investors are increasingly aware of risks associated with their dependence on fresh water. For example, a recent report by the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Water Disclosure branch looked at water-stressed South Africa and revealed that 85% of water-intensive companies in the country are exposed to water risks, with 70% expecting to face water impacts to their operations within the next five years.
A Proliferation of Tools
In response to the growing urgency of water risk, there has been a proliferation of tools, frameworks and surveys aiming to help companies, investors and others understand and respond to these water risks. The different tools and approaches provide a valuable diversity of expertise and a better understanding of the nature of water stress, but it is not always clear which tools should be used by whom, for what, and how they overlap or complement one another.
This edition of the Aqueduct News Roundup looks at recent articles and some wrap-up from World Water Day as well as the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille, France. The last several weeks have been exciting for Aqueduct, which introduced a streamlined new water risk mapping interface and comprehensive water risk maps for southern Africa’s Orange-Senqu basin,which are available online.
The stories in this edition of the Aqueduct News Roundup are focused on the growing importance of water to a wide variety of audiences, especially in the private sector.
It’s rare for water to make waves at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering of business leaders and finance ministers.
But the most recent Davos summit was an exception. A new eye-opening report ranked water supply among the top five global risks in terms of impact– on par with systemic financial failure and fiscal imbalances.
As we mark World Water Day, the alarming statistics underlying water scarcity are worth repeating. Worldwide 2.7 billion people are currently affected by water shortages. As the global population races toward 8 billion and beyond, upward trends in food demand and economic growth promise to further strain freshwater resources, especially in the developing world. Climate change, of course, is exacerbating these water challenges.
The stories in this month’s Aqueduct News Roundup are focused on two central themes. The first theme is the importance of data in water management: February saw the introduction of compelling new data sets, as well as water users in the private and public sectors coming to grips with the importance (and difficulty) of acquiring good water data. The second theme is cost: several stories emerged in February that demonstrated the sometimes staggering price tags associated with water for governments and companies alike.
This piece was coauthored by: Joe Rozza, P.E., BCEE, Global Water Resource Sustainability Manager, The Coca-Cola Company; Greg Koch, Managing Director, Global Water Stewardship, The Coca-Cola Company; Jonathan Boright, Research Scientist, ISciences LLC; Nicole Grohoski, Research Analyst, ISciences LLC
The Aqueduct project is an effort to measure and map water related risks being developed by the World Resources Institute with the support of an alliance founded by General Electric and Goldman Sachs. As part of this effort, the Aqueduct team convened its hydrological modeling partner ISciences and experts from The Coca-Cola Company to develop and analyze a set of maps for the Bonn2011 Nexus conference that illustrate the complex relationships between water, food, and energy worldwide (see below).
Why focus on the water-food-energy nexus? Like water, food and energy are basic necessities of life that help support robust economies and stable political systems. Agriculture and power generation, moreover, account for the majority of water withdrawals in most developed countries.
For the last five months, a severe drought in central China has brought water levels in the Yangtze River to near-record lows. The drought’s impacts -- from threatened drinking water supplies to disruptions in manufacturing -- have rippled through the population and economy of China. They are a reminder of the diverse and complicated ways in which water, or the lack thereof, can pose risks for companies, investors and policy makers.