Climate leaders call for integrated action to protect Earth’s water supplies

International climate panel calls for urgent action to protect planet's water supplies and ecosytems

Water and climate coalition leaders at Cop26 have issued an urgent and united call for integrated action to replace the existing fragmented and crisis-driven approach to protecting the planet’s water supplies.

The 18-member water and climate leaders panel fronts the international coalition of the World Meteorological Organisation and 10 UN agencies.

The coalition aims to achieve an integrated global water and climate agenda that improves progress with water, sanitisation and climate policies. The world is seriously off track to meet both targets.

Climate change is exacerbating both water scarcity and water-related hazards, as rising temperatures disrupt precipitation patterns and the entire water cycle. Currently, 3.6 billion people face inadequate access to water at least one month per year and this is expected to increase to more than five billion by 2050.

Only 0.5 per cent of water on Earth is usable and available as freshwater, but in the past 20 years, terrestrial water storage — all water on the land surface and in the subsurface, including soil moisture, snow and ice — has dropped at a rate of 1 centimetre per year.

This has huge ramifications for future water security, given growing populations and environmental degradation.

At an event at Cop26, water and climate coalition leaders stressed the need for integrated water-climate management based on increased sharing of data and information.

Without this, the organisation says it will be increasingly difficult to answer the questions of when, where and how much water can be supplied now and in the future for people and a healthy planetary ecosystem.

“Without good data, climate and water policies are only empty words. Effective action requires knowledge, knowledge requires information, information requires data,” said Hungarian President Janos Ader, whose country's economy is heavily dependent on the Danube and other rivers.

For high-mountain regions like Central Asia, the Himalayas and the Andes, melting glaciers increase the risk of water-related hazards such as landslides and avalanches. In the longer term, this means a water security crisis for many millions of people and vast ecosystems.

Our glaciers are melting rapidly and to date, more than 1,000 of Tajikistan’s 14,000 glaciers have completely melted.

“Over the past few decades, the total volume of glaciers in our country, which make up more than 60 per cent of the water resources in the Central Asian region, has decreased by almost a third,” said Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon.

Considering the serious consequences of inaction, Tajikistan has proposed proclaiming 2025 as the International Year for Glacier Preservation and creating an associated fund.

Rinchen Namgyal, aged 19, and his cousin, Stanzin Changchuk take a stroll back home next to a stream in Ulley Valley, Ladakh on 2nd June 2009 after visiting a neighbour. There are only 3 houses scattered on one side of the Valley of Ulley.  Photo by Suzanne Lee / For The National

“Climate change is happening now and is jeopardising peace, security, biodiversity and global sustainable development. Water is key to achieving real change and to reaching the goals of the 2030 Agenda,” said Barbara Visser, minister of infrastructure and water management for the Netherlands.

“Let’s scale up and accelerate action in the field of governance, financing, data and information, capacity building and innovation to turn the tide and to secure a sustainable future, leaving no one behind,” she added.

Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organisation Petteri Taalas joined the heads of nine other international agencies in issuing an urgent call for action before Cop26.

“Increasing temperatures are resulting in global and regional precipitation changes, leading to shifts in rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons, with a major impact on food security and human health and well-being,” he said.

“This past year has seen a continuation of extreme, water-related events, which have killed hundreds, displaced thousands and affected millions,” Prof Taalas added.

One of the organisation's top priorities is monitoring and predicting changes in weather, climate and water through the exchange of information and services, research and training, through co-operation between national meteorological and hydrological services.

Updated: November 2nd 2021, 11:00 AM