From degrees to drops: putting water on the COP26 agenda

Water will be on every lunch and dinner menu at the next international climate conference. COP26 – but it won’t be on the agenda. That’s not due to a lack of effort in Copenhagen in 2009, Lima in 2010, or Paris in 2015, where a separate “Paris Pact” on water was not formally adopted.

Even the events organized by the UN, which formally recognized water as a human right in 2010, tacitly treat water as a commodity. Between droughts, floods and fires, it must be clear that this is not enough. Not only must we measure the changing temperature of our planet’s surface in degrees, we must count every drop.

Today, no nation knows how much water it has or what it contains, and we do not have good models to adapt to new climate realities. The hotter it gets The more water plants and crops consume. But the figures we have on global water use in agriculture they are often mere estimates according to the amount of food that is produced or the amount of land that is irrigated in a region. That blinds us, not only to the acceleration of water extraction, but to the little water that remains for nature.

Our current approach, reducing emissions fast enough to limit the rise in global average surface temperature to 1.5 C, or at worst 2 C, still does not take into account the water resources we are losing, the impacts what our actions have on our most precious resource, or how this feeds back the increase in temperatures. So while we wage a war on carbon, we continue to destroy the natural systems necessary for our survival.

Today’s dominant climate agenda focuses on addressing the causes of climate change rather than its consequences. We are investing billions in an energy transition to halt greenhouse gas emissions rather than relocate coastal communities facing rising sea levels when we should be doing both.

In the 1970s, before the consequences of climate change were inevitable, switching polluting industries was a sensible approach. It still is, but today, as we observe accelerating ecological collapse, it is clear that the mission must expand and accelerate. if we are going to survive.

The challenge with a goal that is essentially a speed limit for an energy transition is to narrow down the pool of those we hold accountable for climate change and what behaviors need to change. The implicit categorization of water as a commodity suggests that life is possible without it. Both approaches benefit polluting corporations rather than the public interest and leaves us with climate targets that are vulnerable to corruption, point, and fraud. However, if we view the climate crisis through the lens of water, we include all industries and expand responsibility for behavior change, while undermining the incentive to simply sell toxic assets.

Water is critical to the future of humanity, so we must expand our narratives and determine who writes the next chapter. Yes, 1.5 C is a great goal, it just isn’t enough to frame what the planet needs from us.

Our success depends on people demanding government action. People are better at making their governments solve the problems they can perceive. Global mean surface temperature is an abstract topic to bounce back on. It is certainly a specific and measurable goal, but like a frog in a pot that has begun to simmer, it is not something we perceive immediately or locally. This narrative takes us away from understanding the problem and who must act to change these results. On the other hand, there is no ambiguity about whether a well has dried up, whether a river has stopped flowing throughout the year, whether rising seawater has seeped into a freshwater coastal aquifer, whether there are no clouds in the sky, if a glacier has disappeared, whether our forests are drying up or a city has been flooded. We can debate whether a glass of water is half empty or half full, but no one disputes whether a glass is empty or full.

Water is central to the story of how our planet is changing. The water cycle, which is our planet’s dominant mechanism for regulating heat, is also where the effects of rising global temperatures are manifested. Water vapor is itself the most abundant greenhouse gas, but the composition of our atmosphere determines the rising limit of the amount that can accumulate before it rains, a limit that fossil fuel emissions are destroying. . This feedback loop is transferring water from lakes and rivers into our atmosphere, producing a volatile drought-flood cycle that threatens our largest carbon sinks. Consequently, the dry forests of Canada and the Amazon have become net emitters of carbon. Counting every drop is the best way to save them.

Water offers a tangible way of both understanding climate change and building broader frameworks for action and accountability. The better people understand their relationship to water at stake, the easier it will be to involve them in joining this fight. We could be counting what we are using, counting what we are losing, establishing treaties to prevent future conflicts, even building a meteorological service for water. All of this is necessary and necessary to reach our goal of 1.5 C, but it must start with making sure that water counts in our climate conversation..

Opinion: The better people understand that their relationship with water is at stake, the easier it will be to involve them to join this fight, says @sonaar. # COP26 #WaterCrisis #ClimateCrisis

Due to the pandemic, COP26 will have fewer delegates, fewer journalists, fewer activists, fewer testimonies, and many nations, rich and poor, will not attend. These are not the ideal circumstances to ratify a globally binding successor to the Paris Agreement. But there has never been a better time to put water high on the agenda.

Sonaar Luthra is a world renowned water consultant and a senior TED fellow. As CEO / Founder of Water canary, predicts water and climate risks, drawing on a deep understanding of how critical models, institutions and markets struggle to adapt to the rapid transformations in our planet’s water cycle.

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