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What's Happening at Rio+20: June 20th

It’s the final week of Rio+20, and WRI’s experts are on the ground for all the action. Each day, I’ll bring you highlights of what’s on the horizon. Check out the details below on the exciting things happening tomorrow. And be sure to visit the full list of WRI's Rio+20 events.

The formal text for Rio+20's official outcome document was agreed to today. Meanwhile, WRI hosted its event on governance (watch the video recording here), and I had the opportunity to spend some time with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who visited Rio de Janeiro's operation center. Plus, the Mayor of Rio highlighted the EMABARQ Center for Sustainable Transportation's work on the city's first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor.

The official, three-day Rio+20 conference begins tomorrow, June 20th. Here's what's on tap:

Green vs. Gray Infrastructure: When Nature Is Better than Concrete

Infrastructure is essential for economic growth. But as governments debate the future of sustainable development at the Rio+20 conference, there is one infrastructure solution that can provide a good return on investment: nature.

People often don’t think of forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and other natural ecosystems as forms of infrastructure. But they are. Forests, for instance, can prevent silt and pollutants from entering streams that supply freshwater to downstream cities and businesses. They can act as natural water filtration plants. As such, they are a form of “green infrastructure” that can serve the same function as “gray infrastructure,” the human-engineered solutions that often involve concrete and steel. This example is not alone (see Table 1).

Private-Public Partnerships Reduce Water Risk in South Africa

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).

We are Running Out of Water - Now What?

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.

Aqueduct Launches New Framework to Evaluate Global Water Risks

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.

Mapping Potential Water Risks in China's Wei River

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.

Eco-Compensation in China: Opportunities for Payments for Watershed Services

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.

The Audaciousness of Hope: Reasons for Optimism at the Ceres Conference 2012

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.

Complementary Tools to Evaluate Water Risk and Response

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.

Aqueduct News Roundup - Water is Important to a Variety of Audiences

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.

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