A hundred and ninety-seven representatives from various countries converged in New York City to sign the Paris Climate Change Agreement. By doing so, they are making a promise to include in their respective future plans ways on curtailing their contribution to climate change. To quote this agreement’s goal, “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” With that said, we could imply that most of the efforts would be focused on air pollution. However, if you were to take a closer look on the Paris agreement, you will notice that it has a huge impact on the availability of water and vice versa.
Most climate change policies would often overlook the importance of water. What most policy makers do not realize is that climate change is felt strongly in the agricultural, tourism, and energy sectors, as these economic sectors are highly dependent on water availability. The effect of climate change on water and their subsequent effect on these sectors can occur through a number of ways. Climate change related phenomena such as freshwater salinisation, unpredictable weather, and increased frequency of droughts can have a huge impact in the agricultural sector alone.
Climate change may have geopolitical implications as it exerts its influence on water. Massive human displacement may occur as climate change makes it difficult for them to continue living in their respective homes. Increased droughts, flooding, scarcity of resources, deteriorating water quality, these are some of the things that people would have to face if things wouldn’t improve.
Measures to mitigate the damaging effects of climate change, specifically with regards to water, include the retention of water through forests, wetland, and artificial storage facilities, flood protection systems, and soil and water management in agriculture. Although these measures are effective, some of the methods, like the expansion of irrigation farming, may harm the quality of freshwater and reduce its availability.
What’s ironic is that the mitigation measures against the negative effects of climate change can involve the consumption of a lot of water. To achieve the collective goal, signatories of the Paris agreement are tasked with achieving “a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.” Sinks of greenhouse gases can be made through reforestation, another well-received approach is through the creation of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). The latter involves growing biomass which are then combusted to generate energy. Although both approaches sound good, most people overlook the fact that reforestation and growing plant biomass requires a lot of water. This places us in a precarious situation wherein to solve our global warming crisis, we need to expend some of our dwindling resources, water, which the problem itself is the cause of the resource’s decline. If we use up too much of our freshwater to create these carbon sinks, we may not have enough left for other uses like drinking. On the other hand, if we don’t create these carbon sinks, the continued increase in global temperature may also lessen the amount of usable freshwater.
It is clear that something has to be done with regards to climate change but we cannot just expend our freshwater resource haphazardly. Proper and careful water management should be included in any climate change policies. Policy makers should be informed of the impact of carbon sinks to our freshwater resource. Furthermore, carbon neutral technologies that don't impact water availability, such as hydropower dams, should be given emphasis.