With its high reliance on manufacturing, mining, and agriculture, South Africa’s economy runs on fresh water. Recent projections estimate a startling 17 percent gap between water demand and supply in the country by 2030. Even more concerning, the areas most affected, the Gauteng and Vaal River regions, are also the most economically significant: According to the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, these two areas produce more than 50 percent of South Africa's wealth and supply more than 80 percent of the country's electricity requirements (more than 50 percent of all the electricity generated in Africa).
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.
The Wei River in west-central China is not just the largest tributary of the Yellow River, but it has also been a critical water source for communities for thousands of years. To manage this important resource, water authorities in China just announced that they plan to invest 6 billion yuan - more than US$950 million - this year to fight floods and pollution in the Wei.
This investment in water management comes after flooding on the Wei killed dozens of people and forced tens of thousands from their homes in the fall of 2011. On top of these terrible human costs come severe economic impacts. According to some estimates, the 2011 flooding cost China more than 6 billion U.S. dollars.
Water supply and availability could be the most pressing problem restricting China’s economic growth in the next 10-15 years, according to a new report by the Asian Development Bank. Not only are water resources limited (only about 30 percent of total water resources are available for use), but many surface and groundwater sources are suffering from severe pollution.[^1] The Chinese government is now looking to invest in new ideas to improve water quality and supply, and WRI is using its water quality trading expertise to explore the potential of market-based methods to improve water quality and increase the supply of clean water from Chao Lake, the fifth-largest lake in China.
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.
For the most part, Ecosystem Markets still linger in the early stages of development. There is much more theoretical work to be done to set up environmental credit markets, including carbon offsets and payments for watershed services. But more pilot projects can also help these markets evolve and show how they might work in the real world.
Development pressures in the U.S. South often mean that forests are worth more cut down than left standing. In the U.S. South alone, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that suburban encroachment will convert approximately 31 million acres (approximately 14 percent of 2010 southern forest area) of southern forests to development between 1992 and 2040.