Water and Climate Change
Updated: Jan 8
Water is the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change. Water availability is becoming less predictable in many places and increased incidences of flooding threaten to destroy water points and sanitation facilities and contaminate water sources.
(We would like to thank United Nations Water for their research information which forms the main part of this article and other Facts & Figures with individual Credits.)
In some regions, droughts are exacerbating water scarcity and thereby negatively impacting people’s health and productivity. Ensuring that everyone has access to sustainable water and sanitation services is a critical climate change mitigation strategy for the years ahead.
Ecosystems – such as forests, wetlands and grasslands – are a critical part of the global water cycle. All freshwater ultimately depends on the continued healthy functioning of ecosystems and recognising the water cycle as a biophysical process is essential to achieving sustainable water management.
Higher temperatures and more extreme, less predictable weather conditions are projected to affect availability and distribution of rainfall, snowmelt, river flows and groundwater and further deteriorate water quality. Low-income communities, who are already the most vulnerable to any threats to water supply are likely to be worst affected.
More floods and severe droughts are predicted. Changes in water availability will also impact health and food security and have already proven to
trigger refugee dynamics and political instability.
Water plays a pivotal role in how the world mitigates and adapts to the effects of climate change. An integrated view on water, the biosphere and environmental flows is required to devise sustainable agricultural and economic systems that will allow us to decelerate climate change, protect us from extremes and to adapt to the unavoidable at the same time.
The Paris Agreement brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. The agreement charts a new course in the global climate effort.
Facts and Figures
Around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of scarcity. Another 1.6 billion people, or almost one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage (where countries lack the necessary infrastructure to take water
from rivers and aquifers). (FAO, 2007)
Around 700 million people in 43 countries suffer today from water scarcity.
Two thirds of the world’s population currently live in areas that experience water scarcity for at least one month a year. (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2016)
By 2025, 1.8 billion people are expected to be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity and two-thirds of the world population could be under water stress conditions. (UNESCO, 2012)
With the existing climate change scenario, by 2030, water scarcity in some arid and semi-arid places will displace between 24 million and 700 million people. (UNCCD).
A third of the world’s biggest groundwater systems are already in distress (Richey et al., 2015).
Nearly half the global population are already living in potential waterscarce areas at least one month per year and this could increase to some 4.8 to 5.7 billion in 2050. About 73% of the affected people live in Asia (69% by 2050) (Burek et al., 2016).
Globally, water scarcity already affects four out of every 10 people. A lack of water and poor water quality increases the risk of diarrhoea, which kills approximately 2.2 million people every year, as well as trachoma, an eye infection that can lead to blindness and many other illnesses. (WHO)
Increasing temperatures on the planet and more variable rainfalls are expected to reduce crop yields in many tropical developing regions, where food security is already a problem. (WHO)
By the 2080s, land unsuitable for agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa die to severe climate, soil or terrain constraints may increase by 30 to 60 million hectares. (FAO).
Scientists, farmers and the business community consider variability, casted as ‘extreme weather events’, as one of the most likely production risks over the next ten years (WEF, 2015).
It is estimated that fewer than 20% of the world’s drainage basins exhibit nearly pristine water quality. (UNESCO, 2009)
Naturally occurring arsenic pollution in groundwater now affects nearly 140 million people in 70 countries on all continents. (UNESCO, 2009)
Since 1900 the world has lost around 50% of its wetlands. (UNESCO, 2009)
Ecosystems across the world, particularly wetlands, are in decline in terms of the services they provide. Between US$4.3 and US$20.2 trillion per year worth of ecosystem services were lost between 1997 and 2011 due to land use change. (Constanza et al. 2014)
Globally, the number of lakes with harmful algal blooms will increase by at least 20% until 2050. (UNESCO, 2015)
An estimated 20% of the world’s aquifers is being over-exploited leading to serious consequences such as land subsidence and saltwater intrusion. (Gleeson et al. 2012)
Ecosystem valuation has demonstrated that benefits far exceed costs of water-related investments in ecosystem conservation. The 2011 economic value of ecosystem services has been globally estimated at US$124.8 trillion. Global GDP was estimated at US$75.2 trillion in the same year. (Constanza et al. 2014).
Soil erosion from croplands carries away 25–40 billion tonnes of topsoil every year, significantly reducing crop yields and the soil’s ability to regulate water, carbon and nutrients, and transporting 23–42 million tonnes of nitrogen and 15–26 million tonnes of phosphorus off land, with major negative effects on water quality (FAO/ITPS, 2015a).
Much of the above information and facts are Global problems, but that doesn't mean that we cannot assist positive progress to combat Water Shortages or affects on Climate Change. If we are ALL keen to conserve our water and excess heating outside our homes, Planting trees to assist the chances of flooding and comply with local constraints, we stand some chance of doing our bit to re-address degredation globally.