Blue alert: Putting water at the top of the sustainability agenda

Last month marked the seventh-warmest January on record worldwide, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Tuesday.
Credit – Sun-Ra, CC SA 3.0.

This year – 2023 – sees two important milestones in relation to freshwater. First, the year is the half-way point to the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals deadline. This includes achieving universal access to water sanitation, improving ambient water quality, and managing water resources more efficiently for humans.

Second, the 30th anniversary of World Water Day has been celebrated in 2023 (March 22). This year with the theme of ‘accelerating change.’ Previous themes have been: “Water and Climate Change”; “Water and Jobs’; “Why waste water?”; “Nature for Water”; and “Leaving no one behind”.

Sustainable goals

With the 2023 theme, dysfunction throughout water cycle is seen as a major concern since it undermines progress on all major global issues, from health to hunger, gender equality to jobs, education to industry, and disasters to peace.

Progressing with increasing access to freshwater has been hampered by water not receiving the full attention it deserves from both scientists and policymakers. According to scientists from Université de Toulouse, the attention paid to extreme weather has sometimes overshadowed “longer time-scale changes such as the aridification of an increasing fraction of arable land and the increasing variability of the water cycle from month to month, season to season, and year to year”.

In addition, the researchers point out that mitigation strategies require a massive deployment of land-based strategies whose “feasibility and efficiency heavily depend on water resources.”

To address these issues, what is needed is a more integrated approach to water and climate change, and one that connects the issues of mitigation, water cycle changes, hydrological impacts and climate adaptation.

Climate change

The impact of climate change is also something inescapably bound up with water. Around the world, water-related climate change impacts will vary and depend on geographic and hydroclimatic conditions. However, one common concern is with ocean acidification. Since the industrial revolution began, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased due to human actions. During this time, the pH of surface ocean waters has fallen by 0.1 pH units and this seemingly small change represents approximately a 30 percent increase in acidity.

Ocean acidification can create conditions that eat away at the minerals used by oysters, clams, lobsters, shrimp, coral reefs, and other marine life to build their shells and skeletons. These issues also impact on human society through disruption of the food chain.

With climate issues, water can play a significant part in reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power generation, notably by promoting more hydropower.

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