Climate change remains an existential problem for the entire planet. As this climate reality has been increasingly recognized—through scientific evidence and personal experience—other environmental challenges, such as water scarcity, can be overlooked.
A recent Ecologist article describes how an emphasis on climate can eclipse other issues. As author Adam Wentworth writes,
One of the reasons we’ve failed to tackle water scarcity is the singular focus on climate. In our headlong rush to cut carbon emissions, we’ve ignored the essential connectedness between our demands on nature: deforestation impacts rainfall; climate change affects water supply.
There are many tradeoffs and possibilities as the world moves to simultaneously address changes to water and climate. For instance, nuclear is a zero carbon energy source, but power plant cooling requires large volumes of water, often in locations experiencing water shortages. On the other side, water scarcity will spike demand for desalinated drinking water from marine and brackish water, which requires large amounts of energy and often carries substantial greenhouse gas emissions.
The reality is that water and climate are linked together, and sustainable solutions will require taking those—and other systems—into account. For instance, Wentworth identifies improved water efficiency and leak reductions that can lower energy costs. Many other innovations and technologies that can dampen harmful impacts exist, such as solar-powered groundwater pumps and smart sensors, whether in farms field or in homes.
This perspective falls in line with a recent report from SIWI called, “The essential drop to reach Net-Zero: Unpacking Freshwater’s Role in Climate Change Mitigation.” In it, the authors highlight freshwater’s role in climate mitigation and explains how water systems, broadly construed, must be included in climate strategies, local to national. Understanding the many interconnected systems and acting on jointly is the only way forward.