Increasing demand and climate change threaten global water supplies – UN report
A young resident of Maslakh camp (Afghanistan) takes a drink of water. UN Photo/E. Debebe
12 March 2012 – An unprecedented rise in the demand for food, rapid urbanization and climate change are significantly threatening global water supplies, according to a United Nations report released today, which stresses that a radical new approach to managing this essential resource is needed to be able to sustain future consumption levels.
The UN World Water Development Report, which will be launched at the World Water Forum in Marseille, estimates that there will be a 70 per cent increase in demand for food by the year 2050, leading to a 19 per cent surge in water used for agriculture. At the moment, 70 per cent of freshwater is already being used for agricultural purposes.
“Freshwater is not being used sustainably, according to needs and demands,” states the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, in the report’s foreword. “Accurate information remains disparate, and management is fragmented. In this context, the future is increasingly uncertain and risks are set to deepen.”
The report, entitled “Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk,” notes that to respond to growing demand, countries have tapped into underground water sources, with water extraction tripling over the past 50 years. However, in some underground basins, water cannot be replenished and is now at critically low levels.
You know the first time I heard of Benin was in an art history class in undergrad?
It’s curious how some places in Africa are unique places to test new strategies for sustainable development. My time in Senegal was a mixture of deep traditions and new technologies and perspectives; I wonder if a closer attachment to the land will lead to less ego-attachment to high-energy consumption lifestyles…
- Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development
The Asahi Glass Foundation | “The Blue Planet Prize laureates jointly presented a paper titled “Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act” at the 12th UNEP Governing Council meeting in the year 2012 when the Prize celebrates its twentieth anniversary.”
It seems there is, perhaps under the radar, a consensus about some of the biggest challenges of our day - who is it? It is going to involve pointing the finger at ourselves. This comes from a debate (or blame game) about who should take the lead - private industry, governments, NGOs, no one? Again I am reminded of another article about public opinion and it’s relation to (responsibility to address?) the larger issues we are facing. “Civic engagement”, a phrase from my undergrad comes to mind. Public will to push for R&D, public will to push for solutions to the global (and domestic) economic troubles. Public will, perhaps as this latest article states, to move people towards a more enlightened perspective about the consequences of our interactions; towards conceiving a sustainable future…
[QUOTE]… said Thomas Dietz, assistant vice president for environmental research at Michigan State University. (SOURCE)
Information plays a much smaller role than we like to think, Dietz explained. In order to truly address big issues like climate change or sustainability, we need to talk at a society-wide scale about our values and reach mutual understanding about the values needed for sustainability.
“However, we don’t like to talk about our values or feelings, because it threatens our personal identity.”
Engaging the public
Treating nature as an object, separate and distinct from us, is part of the problem, said Sacha Kagan, sociologist at Leuphana University in Germany. The current environmental crisis results from technological thinking and a fear of complexity that science alone cannot help us with, Kagan said.
The objectification of the natural world began during the Age of Enlightenment about 300 years ago. People saw the world and their place in it in very different ways before that, said Robinson.
Today, he said, sustainability will not be achieved without “engaging people in numbers and at levels that have never been done before”.
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A country to watch develop in the 21st century, China’s impact on climate change, the global economy, and development in general will be historic.
Can Smarter Growth Guide China’s Urban Building Boom?
The world has never seen anything like China’s dizzying urbanization boom, which has taken a heavy environmental toll. But efforts are now underway to start using principles of green design and smart growth to guide the nation’s future development.
by david biello
Coal money, generated by one of the world’s largest open-pit mines, has built a new Ordos, a municipality in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia. A modern city is rising there from the steppes, featuring monumental government buildings, an imposing museum, and row after row of apartment buildings and subdivisions, all designed to accommodate more than a million new residents. Spacious roads wait for cars to zoom between residential and commercial areas or feed into the highway that leads to the existing — and inhabited — old city, some 15 miles away. But cars and people remain sparse.
Ordos is emblematic of China’s urbanization boom, a construction frenzy unlike anything seen in the history of the planet. Today, half of the nation’s 1.35 billion people live in cities. From the outskirts of Shenyang in the cold northeast to the mountainous precincts of Kunming in the subtropical southwest, buildings are rising to accommodate the people now crowding into the 170 cities in China that host more than a million residents. Across the country, construction firms have built some 2 billion square meters of new apartments, offices, and skyscrapers annually in recent years. The national bird of China has become the construction crane.
The more awareness we have of how we function and operate, the better. Very interesting case study of Bangalore via Stockholm Environment Institute.
SEI project, presented at the Bangalore World Water Summit, maps ‘urban metabolism’ to support planning for sustainability.
Rapid population growth and economic activity in Indian cities have overwhelmed their ecological support base, leading to chronic shortages in electricity, water and road space while polluting the physical environment.
The idea, says project leader (and Bangalore native) Vishal Mehta, is to look at the city as a “living organism” to show how economic, social and demographic characteristics drive consumption.
“Much like a living organism consumes resources and produces waste, a city also consumes resources, its waste re-entering the natural ecosystem,” he says. “What are the limits to our natural resource base? What is the impact of the city’s water consumption and waste-water patterns on the future availability of safe and adequate water? How does a city’s extraction of water resources impact other communities in the larger river basin? These are central questions to assessing sustainable management of resources.”
BANGALORE GATED COMMUNITY / FLICKR-ED YOURDON
Bangalore as a case study Bangalore has been one of India’s great success stories, Mehta notes, booming as a high-tech capital. But this boom has also brought a surge in population: a 3 million gain in the last 10 years, to 8.5 million – three times the previous two decades’ growth. The local utilities and infrastructure can’t keep up with the growing demand for resources and services, resulting in disruptions and unmet needs.
While this might seem like another trite pleading for eco-fairness, it’s actually getting at something deeper, in my opinion. The article is getting at the awareness issue that is ultimately at the core of both ‘slavery’ and how we deal with our energy needs. Slaves were once the source, and their usage drove society, built pyramids and empires and societies. Fossil fuels do take some of that role now - which is why I like the remarks about “presenting alternatives” - but I think, at this time, the transition towards seeing how we use fossil fuels now as “problematic” or “immoral” is not close by. Which ultimately will mean there’s a lot more work to do, and suffering to take place, before the lesson is learned for the course of mankind’s history…
Why is all of this relevant for climate change policy? Our contemporary economies have become extremely dependent on fossil fuels, just as slave societies were dependent on their slaves – indeed far more than the latter ever were. As one scholar remarked: “That US Congressmen tend to rationalise fossil fuel use despite climate risks to future generations just as southern congressmen rationalised slavery despite ideals of equality is perhaps unsurprising.”
It should thus come as no surprise that there is so much resistance to climate science. Our societies, like slave-owning societies, have a vested interest in ignoring the scientific consensus. Pointing out the similarities between slavery and the use of fossil fuels can help us engage with the issue in a new way, and convince us to act, as no one envisages comfortably being compared with a slave-owner.
Furthermore, because of the striking similarities between the use of slaves and of fossil fuels, policymakers can find inspiration from the campaigns to abolish slavery and use them to tackle global warming. For example, the history of the abolition of slavery, in the UK at least, suggests that an incremental approach and the development of compromises worked better at moving the cause forward than hardline stances.
The evidence also implies that slavery came to be challenged and finally abolished when people became aware of an alternative. This alternative – steam power – was of course a great moral improvement until we came to know the consequences of fossil fuel consumption. This, in turn, suggests that we will restrain our use of fossil fuels if we can favour a new energy transition and find clean sources of energy – and that we should concentrate our efforts on developing “green” technologies at the same time as reducing our consumption of fossil fuels.