This piece was co-authored by Lijin Zhong, Senior Associate from the WRI China office
The Yellow River has played a critical role in the growth and prosperity of Chinese civilization for thousands of years. But today, the Yellow and the people who depend on it face severe challenges. Stress of limited water resources, pollution, and flooding pose significant risks to communities and businesses that rely on the river. As these stresses grow, China’s water managers and users face the daunting challenge of implementing policies that balance economy, ecology, and community.
There is no shortage of troubling statistics to prove that water management is a global challenge. About 1.2 billion people currently face water scarcity, and a population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050 will put increased strain on already pressured water supplies worldwide.
But while the water challenge is truly global, it also demands solutions that are tailored to local conditions. Availability, use, and quality of water vary dramatically from place to place.
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.