In a World Water Day address, United Nation Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described water as "the primary medium through which we perceive the effect of climate disruption, from extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, to glacial melting, saltwater intrusion and sea level rise". The United Nations’ World Water Day 2020 focused on “Water and Climate Change”.
Guterres points to global warming and continuation of unsustainable water use that will create unprecedented demand for water resources, leading to unprecedented levels of displacement.
“Today, some 2.2 billion people lack safe drinking water and 4.2 billion people live without access to adequate sanitation. Unless we act with urgency, the impacts of climate change are projected to exacerbate these figures. By 2050, between 3.5 and 4.4 billion people will live with limited access to water, with more than 1 billion of them living in cities.”
His address included the assessment that climate change is already affecting health and productivity and is a threat multiplier for instability and conflict.
Guterres says the solution is clear. “We must urgently scale up investments in healthy watersheds and water infrastructure, with dramatic improvements in the efficiency of water use. We must anticipate and respond to climate risks at every level of water management. We need to urgently step up efforts to strengthen resilience and adaptation for people affected by climate disruption.”
Marking World Water Day, the 2020 edition of the World Water Development Report (WWDR 2020) entitled “Water and Climate Change” produced by UN Water aims to inform the climate change community about opportunities that improved water management offer in terms of adaptation and mitigation.
The report identifies that the climate is changing and will continue to do. Climate change will affect the availability, quality and quantity of water for basic human needs. The human right to water and sanitation is already threatening billions of people.
The report outlines that alteration of the water cycle poses risks for energy production, food security, human health, economic development and poverty reduction, and this major change seriously jeopardises the possible achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
UN Water suggests that improved water management offers opportunities in terms of adaptation and improved resilience. In assessing climate change adaptation through the lens of water will improve the provision of water supply and sanitation services and lead to disaster risk reduction.
Improving access to water and sanitation has clear benefits. There is evidence that return on water investment can be respectably high: a global average benefit-cost ration of 5.5 for improved sanitation, 2.0 for improved drinking water.
The investment opportunity is vast. Decades of underinvestment in infrastructure, globally, has contributed to the need for improved water treatment and development of water networks. The report calls for renewed investment in water and water infrastructure in light of the known effects of climate change.
In addition, water use has increased sixfold in the past century and is rising at an estimated 1 percent per year due to rising population and increasing demand, globally. Climate change will cause more stress on the need for reliable water supply. Even more developed regions of Europe, Asia and North America will require investment funding to keep up with demand.
“We must urgently scale up investments in healthy watersheds and water infrastructure, with dramatic improvements in the efficiency of water use. We must anticipate and respond to climate risks at every level of water management,” said Guterres.
The Secretary-General connects these messages with the upcoming COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland: this is the year of “how to implement” and it will be the opportunity to “bend the emissions curve” and to create a new paradigm for a secure foundation for water sustainability.