Wise Water Management: The Common Denominator For a New Climate Deal?

As the COP20 climate talks enter their second week, they still represent the greatest opportunity to pave the way for a binding global deal that recognizes and prioritizes the links between climate adaptation, mitigation and resilience. However, focusing on water resources as a common denominator between the strategies could provide critical momentum to driving change.

Water is the primary medium through which climate change impacts humans, society and the environment. Water resources management that builds on ecosystem-based approaches is essential for securing resilience and a key component in disaster risk reduction. Water is also critical for successful climate change mitigation, as many efforts to reduce carbon emissions depend on reliable access to water resources.

The impact of water related hazards may exacerbate inequalities and are disproportionately borne by poor and vulnerable communities. More than 1.6 billion people live in areas suffering water scarcity, a number expected to rise to 2.8 billion over the next decade. Gradual sea-level rise poses an additional threat to coastal communities and economic activities.

Water wise strategies supporting resilience and disaster risk reduction are fundamental for the provision of safe water, livelihoods and sustainable energy sources. Supporting the sustenance, preservation and restoration of healthy ecosystems will increase resilience to water related disasters. Including key water resources management functions in adaptation planning processes will help in coping with both increasing climate variability and long-term shifts in climate conditions.

Water and wastewater companies are typically energy intensive. Between 10% and 35% of operational costs are on energy consumption, and the water sector contributes between 2-5% of global carbon emissions, as well as contributing towards other greenhouse gas emissions such as nitrogen oxides and methane, which drive climate change and extreme weather events such as floods and droughts. Addressing the challenge of greenhouse gas reduction and improved energy efficiency within the water cycle must become central to water management strategies globally.

This can also be done when applying adaptation strategies such as reducing freshwater consumption, recycling, or rainwater management, as these strategies also contribute to avoiding energy consumption and are therefore linking adaptation and mitigation approaches.

This indicates clear opportunities for improving energy efficiency and greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions through more energy-efficient systems, as well as recovering energy, nutrients and other materials from wastewater. Energy efficiency, energy production and resource recovery in the water sector can make a significant contribution to reducing energy demand and diminishing carbon emissions. Yes, more innovation and new technologies are required, but this is not a pipe dream for the future: these technologies are available to us today.

The water sector can become more energy efficient by 2030 through major efficiency gains and by producing energy from wastewater treatment. Investment in these technologies can reduce water management costs. Recovering energy, and other resources, from the water and wastewater cycle provide further opportunities to establish a cyclical economy and make a major contribution to sustainability.

Viewed from this perspective, water will determine how economic development, human well-being and environmental sustainability will be achieved, as well as being critical to climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. Developing sustainable solutions for optimizing the water – energy – climate linkages will require technological innovation and close cooperation between sectors. The water – energy – climate linkages are at the heart of creating the sustainable economy of tomorrow.

Together with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), and acting on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), the International Water Association is working with water utilities in three countries on the Water and Wastewater Companies for Climate Mitigation project. The project works across local, national and international levels, and engages with national stakeholders in three pilot companies in Mexico, Peru and Thailand. The objective is to use greenhouse gas emission-reducing technologies to improve the carbon balance of water and wastewater companies while maintaining or even improving service levels and improving these companies cost effectiveness.

The Water and Wastewater Companies for Climate Mitigation project shows how the water sector can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to climate change mitigation.

In Lima, we will co-organise a side event with partners from around the world to build recognition of the links between climate adaptation, mitigation and resilience, with water resources as the common denominator between the strategies. The side event will showcase experiences and lessons learned in areas related to water management, energy efficiency, sustainable drainage systems, catchment protection and management and the promotion of policies which improves adaptive capacity and builds resilience, while aiming at stabilising or reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Corinne Trommsdorff

Programme Manager, Cities of the Future
Corinne Trommsdorff has a Masters in agriculture science and environmental engineering from the Institut National Agronomique Paris-Grignon, AgroParisTech, and has over 15 years of experience working as a consultant, with a focus in later years on en... Read full biography