Water is the most frequently cited sector in all of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the adaptation chapter, and energy is a critical means through which we can reach the Paris goals. However, the true scope of these issues extends beyond simply their interactions within the Paris agreement.
The saying “one only understands the value of water when the well is dry” is the perfect depiction of the situation facing many of us in terms of water. Speakers on Water Action Day at COP23 noted that, “around 40 percent of the world’s population will face water shortages by 2050, accelerating migration and triggering conflict, while some regions could lose up to six percent of their economic output, unless water is better managed.” A side panel at COP23 stated a similar occurrence in regard to energy highlighting how access to reliable, clean and affordable energy is a necessary condition to reduce poverty and to support human development.
These impacts are not as thoroughly researched and understood as other impacts from climate change, and certain regions of the world that feel these types of issues won’t affect them may tend to disregard their importance. But the facts are that over 1 billion people lack access to electricity, about 850 million live without access to safe water, and another 800 million are undernourished.
It is only once water and energy resources are in a state of emergency that the world may be truly awakened to the extent of these issues, and that’s what makes the collaboration between energy and water so important.
“There is an urgent need to develop and enhance capacity and partnerships in relation to understanding three underpinning elements of a sustainable society: food, energy and water security.” -Simon Langan, Director of the Water Future and Solutions Initiative at International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
If we are able to develop these partnerships now through integrated approaches, a variety of tools and sustainable methodologies, we will create a more resilient future for the world, not only in terms of climate change but also other related factors such as poverty, human development, and hunger.
These initiatives are addressed in an interrelated manner because tackling one sector, indirectly and sometimes directly, impacts aspects of the other sectors. This is especially seen with the interdependent nature of energy, water and agricultural resources:
“The production of food and energy are both highly dependent on the access to water and may compete for this resource, water supply and agriculture are major users of energy. Energy system and land-use change are the biggest emitters of GHGs. There is thus a high likelihood that pursuit of policy goals in one area could have impacts on other areas.” -IAEA
Initiatives that address the interconnectedness of these topics make it easier to find solutions for the others. This was seen with a number of the outcomes of COP23, especially solutions such as the nature-based solutions for water management, which form a crucial part of the “toolbox” for addressing climate change through conservation and sustainable management of ecosystems, as discussed at International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s COP23 event: Nature-based Solutions for a Climate Resilient Europe.
“Healthy, well-functioning ecosystems improve the resilience of nature and society and often have a high return on investment rate.” -IUCN
The Global Water Partnership (GWP) described water as a connector, an enabling resource for sustainable development. They state that water-intensive investments should assess and reduce climate risk even if they are not “water sector” projects. This similar result is seen with a number of other integrated solutions and methodologies.
Among the tools developed by the IAEA and other UN organizations, the Climate, Land, Energy and Water (CLEW), methodology helps countries analyze complex interactions between these key resources, together with climate change. The methodology supports policy and planning for sustainable development.
When all of these solutions, partnerships and tools are considered together, the picture that emerges is promising for the future of the energy-water nexus. We must work together in an innovative and optimistic manner. Maybe we won’t have to learn what happens when the well runs dry after all.