Much progress has been made on water security over recent decades, yet for the first time in human history, our collective actions have pushed the global water cycle out of balance. Water is life: it is essential for health, food, energy, socioeconomic development, nature and livable cities. It is hardly surprising that the climate and biodiversity crises are also a water crisis, where one reinforces the other. Already, a staggering four billion people suffer from water scarcity for at least one month a year and two billion people lack access to safely-managed drinking water. By 2030, global water demand will exceed availability by 40 percent. By 2050, climate-driven water scarcity could impact the economic growth of some regions by up to 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product per year.
Right now, the world’s first Global Stocktake is assessing the progress being made toward the goals of the Paris Agreement and global leaders are convening at COP28 in Dubai to agree on a way forward. We have a critical opportunity to catalyze global ambition and recognize that water is how climate change manifests itself. While wealthier, more resilient nations may be able to manage the devastating impacts of climate change, these same challenges are disastrous for lesser developed, more vulnerable communities.
Rainfall, the source of all freshwater, is becoming more erratic. Changes in precipitation, evaporation and soil moisture are creating severe food insecurity. Droughts trap farmers in poverty, as the majority of cultivated land is rain-fed. Extreme drought reduces growth in developing countries by about 0.85 percentage points. Melting glaciers, sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion jeopardize freshwater supplies. Floods destroy infrastructure, damage homes and disrupt livelihoods. The 2022 Pakistan floods affected 33 million people and more than 1,730 lost their lives, while 2023 saw devastating floods in Libya among other places.
Now more than ever, it is urgent that we work together to make water the engine of climate action. Already, many countries are investing in technology and climate-resilient water infrastructure. Yet, we need more than technology and engineering to adapt to a changing climate. To advance global water action, we must radically change the way we understand, value and manage water with an emphasis on two necessary measures.
First, we need to make water availability central to our economic planning and decision-making. We need to rethink where and how we grow our food, where we build our cities, and where we plan our industries. We cannot continue to grow thirsty crops in drylands or drain wetlands and cut down forests to raise our cattle. In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.
Second, we must restore and protect natural freshwater stocks, our buffers against extreme climate events. Natural freshwater storage is how we save water for dry periods and freshwater storage capacity is how we store rainwater to mitigate floods. 99 percent of freshwater storage is in nature. We need to halt the decline of groundwater, wetlands and floodplains. But our challenge is not only about surface and groundwater bodies, or blue water. We also need to preserve and restore our green water stocks, or the water that remains in the soil after rainfall. To reduce the decline of blue water and preserve green water, we need to implement water-friendly crop-management practices and incorporate key stakeholders, such as farmers, into the decision-making process.
Addressing the urgency of the global water crisis goes beyond the water sector. It requires transformative changes at every level of society. National climate plans such as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans are key instruments to make water an organizing principle to spatial, economic and investment planning. Much like the Netherlands did earlier this year when the Dutch parliament adopted a policy that makes water and soil guiding principles in all our spatial planning decisions. Right now, about 90 percent of all countries’ NDCs prioritize action on water for adaptation. NDCs and National Adaptation Plans are drivers of integrated planning and have the potential to unlock vast investments, yet including targets for water is only a first step.
To drive global action, the Netherlands and the Republic of Tajikistan co-hosted the United Nations 2023 Water Conference, bringing the world together for a bold Water Action Agenda to accelerate change across sectors and deliver on the water actions in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement. To elevate the agenda’s emphasis on accelerating implementation and improved impact, the Netherlands is contributing an additional €5 million to the NDC Partnership to support countries to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce water-related climate vulnerability and increase public and private investments targeting water-nexus opportunities. As a global coalition of over 200 countries and international institutions, the NDC Partnership is uniquely positioned to support countries to enhance the integration of water in formulating, updating, financing and implementing countries’ NDCs.
One example showcasing the importance of incorporating water management into national planning comes from former NDC Partnership co-chair and climate leader, Jamaica. Jamaica’s National Water Commission (NWC), one of the largest electricity consumers in the country, mobilized technical assistance to develop an integrated energy efficiency and renewables program to reduce its energy intensity, building up the resilience of the network, while helping reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. With additional support from the Netherlands, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with Global Water Partnership (GWP)-Caribbean, the government of Jamaica will ensure the National Water Commission is well equipped for the future. Implementation of climate commitments and the requisite financing to do so are key to ensuring targets like these are met.
Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world. We are committed to providing political leadership and deploying our know-how for a more water-secure world. As we look towards the outcomes of the Global Stocktake and COP28, it is essential that we make water the engine of climate action.
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