One of the biggest obstacles to solving global water challenges is a lack of political will to do so, according to an expert panel participating in the third aquaNOW Audience, which was webstreamed live to a global audience from Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 17th.
Asked by moderator and OOSKAnews CEO David Duncan what water issues “kept them up at night,” the panelists also cited the sheer scale of projected water scarcity around the globe, loss of biodiversity, and failing to recognize the “value” of water.
Stuart Orr, Head of Water Stewardship at environmental NGO WWF, said a lack of political will to address tough water issues “leads to a cycle of bad choices” and a “lack of long-term planning.”
Jim Panton, CEO of water technology firm Panton McLeod Ltd., added that from his experience connecting with other SMEs in Scotland and internationally, “there are plenty of innovative solutions to big problems,” but these enterprises need to be exposed to the issues and given appropriate frameworks to work on them.
Hydro Nation Scholar and ecologist Willem Bastiaan Buddendorf acknowledged that there is no “simple solution” to balancing the need for major infrastructure to produce renewable energy with the need to minimize environmental impacts. He suggested that more modeling tools could be developed to improve sustainable management, something he himself is working on.
Gabriel Eckstein, professor of law at Texas A&M University, noted that one big reason water issues are not being addressed is a failure to recognize the “value” of water as a resource, beyond its economic value. He also cited inconsistent water management policies; the United States, for example, does not have a national water policy, creating a situation in which numerous local water authorities may be creating separate policies and plans for the same aquifer or watershed.
All agreed that the private sector has a growing role to play in coming up with solutions to water scarcity. The increased interest by global companies, and their investors, in understanding and disclosing water risk is driving this. Orr cited the growing number of water risk assessment tools available, which he saw as a positive development.
However, what is most important is not just information about companies’ water use, but what they are doing about it, Orr said.
The panelists also took time to look at recent water news developments, dealing with issues including climate change, water conflict, and the water-energy nexus.
They all agreed that the main and most apparent consequences of global climate change will be on water.
In Eckstein’s estimation, attempts to mitigate climate change will come too late – at this point, he said, adaptation is more important. Orr cited the necessity of building institutions and structures for the future that will be flexible in the face of a changing climate.
While acknowledging that water stress, one consequence of climate change in many areas, had the potential to spur resource-based conflicts at local levels, Orr and Eckstein said predictions of “water wars” were often overblown, noting that on an international level, water is more often a source of cooperation than of conflict. Even when pushed to the brink of conflict, nations tend to be willing to negotiate.
However, on a local scale, Panton pointed out that conflicts over scarce water resources have been happening for centuries, citing the example of pastoralists in arid northern Kenya.
Tackling the issue of water and energy, the panelists noted that the need to develop renewable energy sources has led to an increase in hydropower projects, which involve large dams that have significant social and environmental impacts.
Orr said the key was to have “the right dam in the right place.” It is best, he said, to try to get governments to consider the trade-offs of large dam construction, being sure to take into account negatives such as ecological changes, displacement of communities and food security concerns.
Buddendorf agreed that dams are not good for riverine ecology, but noted that there are ways to mitigate these issues, and these should be sought.
In 2014, OOSKAnews, the world’s leading provider of water-related news, launched production of the 2014-2015 “aquaNOW Audiences,” a series of web-streamed seminars designed to engage global audiences with critical water-related challenges. An initial series of six aquaNOW Audiences are being physically hosted in Scotland -- the Hydro Nation -- and streamed live to a global viewership.
The third Audience ran as a parallel session to the inaugural “Building Bridges” Conference, organized by Asia Scotland Institute (ASI) and hosted by headline sponsor RBS, which has the aim of connecting Scotland with its international communities.