Water, water, everywhere

Alongside the COP this past week, the Mexican Commission of Water (Conagua) along with UNWater, the World Bank, WWF and other partners, ran a series of Dialogues on Water and Climate Change. Yesterday the series concluded with a high-level panel as a side event in the conference. The message from the water community was clear: water is a fundamental component not only of climate change adaptation, but it is also a cross-cutting issue in mitigation, and needs to be considered in the UNFCCC process.

As a water geek, I couldn’t agree more.

The right to water is enshrined in the Declaration of Human Rights, and access to water influences both the ecosystems that sustain us (through the services they provide in flood abatement, water purification, nutrient cycling, etc) and everything we undertake as humans – from the water we need in our homes for drinking, cooking and cleaning to the water required for agriculture, industry and energy production.

With our changing climate, we are already seeing changes in the water cycle. More frequent floods and droughts are only the tip of the iceberg of changing conditions in our watersheds. Water is the key overarching resource that will determine the success of any of our adaptative actions.

And with respect to mitigation, the water-energy nexus cannot be ignored: a large amount of water is needed for energy production, while energy required for the treatment, pumping, and heating of water for industrial, agricultural and municipal use is a significant contribution to emissions globally.

Having accepted the importance of water as a cross-cutting resource, here is what the speakers of the concluding panel highlighted as the top issues moving forward:

1.    Getting water on the agenda (in the climate change arena generally, and at the COP specifically).

2.    Valuing water and the ecosystem services it provides us.

3.    Enhancing our observation networks, and getting the right information for decision making.

4.    Adapting our institutions to better respond to the uncertainties that climate change creates in water.

5.    Working to create awareness of the importance of water.

Conagua and the Mexican government have shown incredible leadership in leading these dialogues, and in the work that is being done around water and climate change. I learned through the Dialogues of Mexico’s 2030 agenda for water including a vision for: clean rivers, managed watersheds, universal coverage, and secured settlements against catastrophic floods.

Canada is lacking a long-term water strategy such as this, despite broad support from the water community for a new water ethic and improved, comprehensive water governance. Water issues tend not to register on the radar at home, largely because of the (false) perception that we have an abundance of this resource. Consider the actual amount of renewable water available, and the picture becomes much more alarming – particularly when the additional uncertainty of climate change is factored in.

We cannot ignore the important role that water plays in sustaining our communities, nor should we neglect its consideration in national and international planning and policy. Water is the integral resource sustaining human life, so let’s get this water dialogue started!


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