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H2O ≠ CO2: framing and responding to the global water crisis

Derek Vollmer, Ian J Harrison

Environmental Research Letters (ERL), 16, 011005

January 13, 2021

Our planet is in the midst of what is often described as a global water crisis. Water has been near the top of the list of the World Economic Forum's Global Risk Report since 2013. We are not on track to meet the global ambitions of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, whose main water targets are enshrined in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 (to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all) (UN 2018). Meanwhile freshwater biodiversity is declining twice as rapidly as its terrestrial and marine counterparts (Tickner et al 2020). Freshwater ecosystems, like our global atmospheric commons, have been exploited and neglected for too long, and this is reflected in both water and a stable climate being undervalued by economic markets (Garrick et al 2020). Climate change will likely exacerbate water crises and further threaten human security, particularly in developing countries (UNESCO/UN-Water 2020). Indeed, there are numerous overlaps between climate change and water insecurity, arguably the two most important environmental crises the world must face in the coming decades. However, we argue that borrowing from the climate change mitigation playbook will not work for water and may distract from more effective solutions. The water crisis is multi-dimensional—the same place can suffer from too much or too little water in the same year, and scarcity is a function of not just physical water quantity, but also quality, timing, and access. Threats to freshwater biodiversity are more complex and in some places are being exacerbated by attempts to improve human water security. Therefore, applications of concepts such as planetary boundaries, footprints, and offsets in the water context can bias actions and investment into proposed solutions that are poorly matched with the actual problems on the ground. We explore these mismatches and propose an alternate framing that puts context-based freshwater health at the center of water security.

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CITATION

Vollmer, D., & Harrison, I. J. (2021). H2O ≠ CO2: framing and responding to the global water crisis. Environmental Research Letters, 16(1), 011005. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/abd6aa

 

 

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