Water is critical for success on climate action
Reaching climate targets depends heavily on better decisions to manage already scarce water resources
- Climate mitigation measures depend on freshwater resources
- Measures safeguarding freshwater resources, protecting biodiversity, and ensuring resilient livelihoods are crucial.
- Mainstreaming freshwater in all climate mitigation planning and action requires polycentric and inclusive governance
New research shows that water is much more important in mitigating climate change than previously believed. Better management of water is critical to tackling today’s food and energy crises, both of which are exacerbated by climate change.
A new report released today is the first-ever summary of current research on the role of water in climate mitigation. A key message is the need to better understand global water shortages and scarcity in order to plan climate targets that do not backfire in future. If not planned carefully, negative impacts of climate action on freshwater resources might threaten water security and even increase future adaptation and mitigation burdens.
Risks and win-win solutions
“Most of the measures needed to reach net-zero carbon targets can have a big impact on already dwindling freshwater resources around the world. With better planning, such risks can be reduced or avoided,” says co-author and centre researcher Lan Wang Erlandsson.
The report describes why, where, and how freshwater should be integrated into climate change mitigation plans to avoid unexpected consequences and costly policy mistakes. Even efforts usually associated with positive climate action – such as forest restoration or bioenergy – can have negative impacts if water supplies are not considered.
Most of the measures needed to reach net-zero carbon targets can have a big impact on already dwindling freshwater resources around the world. With better planning, such risks can be reduced or avoided.
Centre researcher Lan Wang Erlandsson
Done right, however, water-related and nature-based solutions can instead address both the climate crisis and other challenges.
“We have identified water risks, but also win-win solutions that are currently not used to their full potential. One example is restoration of forests and wetlands which bring social, ecological, and climate benefits all at once. Another example is that better wastewater treatment can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from untreated wastewater, while improving surface water and groundwater quality, and even provide renewable energy through biogas," says Malin Lundberg Ingemarsson from Stockholm International Water Institute.
Five ways forward
The report highlights five key messages on the interlinkage between water and mitigation:
- Climate mitigation measures depend on freshwater resources. Climate mitigation planning and action need to account for current and future freshwater availability.
- Freshwater impacts – both positive and negative – need to be evaluated and included in climate mitigation planning and action.
- Water and sanitation management can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. More efficient drinking water and sanitation services save precious freshwater resources and reduce emissions.
- Nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change can deliver multiple benefits for people and the environment. Measures safeguarding freshwater resources, protecting biodiversity, and ensuring resilient livelihoods are crucial.
- Joint water and climate governance need to be coordinated and strengthened.
- Mainstreaming freshwater in all climate mitigation planning and action requires polycentric and inclusive governance.
"To tackle the climate, food, nature, and energy crises, water availability is of the essence. It is urgent that the world focuses all attention on the double facts that water is the number one challenge for climate adaptation due to droughts and floods, and a key challenge for mitigation, as there is no safe climate future well below two degrees Celsius without a functioning hydrological cycle," concludes centre researcher Johan Rockström.
About the report
For over two years, the centre has been part of a team of organisations who reviewed available scientific knowledge about the role of water in climate mitigation, including aspects like energy, landscapes, food and wastewater treatment.
The report is the result of a collaboration between Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
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