Water – the medium for climate change
With just a few months left for the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (also called COP15); many water sector professionals are crossing their fingers and hoping that water will be a part of the negotiations. “The importance of water must be properly and adequately reflected within the COP-15 agreement, and in processes beyond COP-15,” was the urgent message given out at the just concluded World Water Week in Stockholm.
To the person working in the water sector, it is only too obvious that the main medium through which climate change will have impact on the world is water. Rising sea levels, melting glaciers, intense rainfall, severe droughts, falling water tables, reduced oxygen levels in oceans, irrigation – the common thread running through all the scenarios is water.
But to the public at large and even some specialists, climate change is only associated with greenhouse gas emissions – entailing the need to focus on energy sources.
Planning and adaptation for climate change is not possible without understanding that water and energy are inter-dependent. Water (and wastewater) treatment and supply are heavily reliant on energy needed for purification processes and pumping. Similarly, energy generation requires enormous amounts of water. Unless the use of both is reduced and optimised, there are little chances of facing the challenges ahead.
The current uncertainty about the exact nature of climate change has become an excuse for inaction in many countries. “Do not wait for precise, predictive climate information; it will not come.” This was one of the conclusions voiced by experts who gathered at the water week in Stockholm. The unanimous opinion was to make use of a credible climate scenario relevant to a specific need (coastal protection, agriculture, navigation, hydropower, drinking water supply) and to design appropriate response measures. A political debate on risk management at local, regional and global levels was called for.
One big question remains unanswered. Are the people living in developed countries as well as those in mega-cities in developing countries ready to reduce their resource footprints? Are they ready to change their consumptive lifestyles? Are they prepared to move into smaller houses that require lesser heating or shift to vegetarian diets that need lesser water or adopt simpler, more austere lifestyles? As long as they continue to consume, the factories of the world will produce the goods they need. Energy, food, water, land – all natural resources of the earth will continue to be sucked out. Small, incremental lifestyle changes will not help to face the cataclysmic challenges that lie ahead.
One can have endless, ambiguous debates about climate change mitigation and adaptation but unless the key issue of consumptive lifestyle is addressed, this will just be another exercise in public speaking.