Water stewardship in a time of climate change
Unfortunately, global economic systems have long treated water as if it is infinite and of little value, leading to massive waste and misuse of the resource, endangering ecosystems, human health, and long-term economic sustainability. For people to prosper, they need sustainable access to water that is safe to drink and free from waterborne disease. Though 2.8 billion people gained ‘improved’ water access between 1981 and 2015, 2.1 billion people did not have access to safe water.
While in the 1960’s 24% of people globally lived in areas of water stress or scarcity, this rose to 58% in the 2000s, with 17% living with both high stress and scarcity. This is due to climate change and urbanisation, with urban dwellers consuming more water than rural dwellers and affluence also driving up water demand.
The 2022 Beijing Olympics illustrates the chronic dismissal of water versus other economic, environmental, or social issues. Touted by its organisers as the “greenest games ever” through a host of measures such as repurposing venues, using energy-saving transport, exclusively use of renewable energy and planting trees in Africa. But very little was said about the impact of using 100% artificial snow in a region that is one of the most water stressed in the country. It is estimated 2.8 million cubic metres of water will be consumed to make snow in a region that only receives 21 cm average snowfall annually. That is enough to fill 1,000 Olympic-sized pools.
With wastewater starting to be seen as a resource and using nature-based solutions to good effect, an affordable and sustainable water future becomes a real prospect. We need to accelerate the pace of change. As investors and philanthropists there are many ways to have a positive impact to solve the water challenge. As active owners, we can engage with management of companies that have a material impact on the water cycle to foster the transition, making sure water is on the agenda alongside carbon when we look at climate change.
We can also provide clients with investment solutions that direct capital to the companies fostering the transition or creating the solutions to the water challenge. Finally, philanthropy and grant making will also be key in funding crucial water projects, where profits are not possible or will take time to materialise.