Water and the Paris Agreement

At the end of August this year Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) summarized the voices of the World Water Week when he said, “Water is what binds together all the aspects of climate change. Climate change is water change.” (1)

The impact of climate change is felt through water, with flooding, erratic rain patterns, pro-longed droughts and other extreme weather events.  This has been illustrated graphically in Cumbria in recent weeks, where towns like Carlisle and Kendal are still recovering from the devastation wrought by Storm Desmond.  Researchers have run models and found that climate change made the flooding 40% more likely.(2)

This supports the view that “If climate change is the shark, then water is its teeth”.

So it’s somewhat surprising that Water isn’t mentioned in the final text of the Paris Agreement. (3)

But look a little further beneath the surface and some water-related initiatives were launched as part of the COP21 event. (4)

The Business Alliance for Water and Climate Change seems to be a climate change-focused realignment of organisations already involved in water stewardship and footprinting.  This arena is still dominated by the pioneer companies who have recognised and responded to the risks of water security, including Unilever, GSK and Diageo, plus a range of suppliers and solution providers.  Not much change here then…

The Paris Pact on Water and Climate Change Adaption involves a wide geographic coalition of national and cross-border river basin organizations, governments, funding agencies, local governments, companies and civil society.  It encompasses individual commitments to implement adaptation plans, strengthening water monitoring and measurement systems in river basins and promoting financial sustainability and new investment in water systems management.

There are lots of good regional and local initiatives in here to improve resilience – after all water issues can only be addressed via action at the river basin or aquifer level – but this feels like a convenient umbrella for a range of disparate programmes, rather than a co-ordinated strategy to deal with the resilience of water systems in the face of climate change uncertainty.

So we will continue to address water management and climate change issues through a wide range of initiatives, organisations and funding streams – which is OK because that’s what we have been doing for years.  For example, Rob Lawson led an UKWIR project which reported in 2012 that “A combined water efficiency retrofit across 1,000 homes could save over 8.37 million litres (Ml) of water, a total of £20,151 off average measured water bills, £9,265 off energy bills and domestic carbon emission reductions of 40.8 tons of CO2 per year. This scale of retrofit could reduce a water company’s carbon emissions by over 8.7 tons of CO2 per year.” (5)

And more recently we have been looking at how one water company can incorporate climate change uncertainty into their assessment of future water resource availability, using stochastic modelling methods.

  1. http://www.alternet.org/environment/plea-paris-water-must-be-central-global-climate-agreement
  2. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/11/storm-desmond-rainfall-flooding-partly-due-to-climate-change-scientists-conclude
  3. http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf
  4. http://www.edie.net/news/6/Paris-climate-summit-COP21-business-water-alliance/
  5. UKWIR (2012) The Links and Benefits of Water and Energy Efficiency Joint Working.