A new policy brief from UN-Water, the interagency mechanism that coordinates the efforts of United Nations entities and international organizations working on water and sanitation issues, highlights that climate change increases variability in the water cycle and makes extreme weather events more frequent. Access to water and sanitation services for billions of people is threatened, placing huge stress on ecosystems. At the same time, growing demand for water has led to an increase in energy-intensive pumping, treatment and transportation, and has raised carbon emissions, thereby exacerbating the effects of climate change.
Gilbert Houngbo, Chair of UN-Water and President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) commented: “The way we manage water resources can help us tackle climate change in two ways. First, by coordinating across sectors we can reduce the impacts of floods and droughts, adapt to the expected increase in unpredictability and ensure communities and businesses have the water they need to thrive. And second, we can reduce harmful emissions by making water supply more sustainable.”
The policy brief calls for national and regional policy planning of water management to be viewed though a climate resilience lens. The brief suggests that increased investment is needed to improve hydrological data, governance, education, risk assessment and knowledge sharing. The brief further suggests that low-income populations must benefit from targeted strategies to help them cope with climate change, as they are disproportionately affected by extreme weather events.
Countries and international river basin management authorities must do more to implement integrated solutions. UN-Water contends that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, compared to 2 degrees, can have huge implications on water resources as it may reduce the proportion of the world’s population exposed to an increase in water stress by climate change by up to 50%.
“Uncertainty about the future cannot be an excuse for inaction today,” says Houngbo. “We cannot afford to wait to make water management more climate resilient and sustainable. We have the tools, methods and financing mechanisms at our disposal. We must act now.”