Think climate change and what comes to mind? The Arctic Ocean melting like an ice cube under a July sun? Island paradises swallowed up by rising seas? Beefier hurricanes crashing into coastlines with greater frequency?
There’s a ring of truth to all of the above, and it should make all of us think and act greener. Now, the World Bank has come out with a report that sums up one of the gravest of climate change consequences with just one word: water. As in, not enough of it.
By 2050, the report projects, water scarcity could cause economic growth in some parts of the world to drop by as much as 6 percent. Regions where water is plentiful will get thirsty, and regions already struggling with scarcity will get thirstier. Water availability in cities could plummet by as much as two-thirds by 2050 compared to 2015 levels.
The World Bank makes a good case for the linkage between global warming and water scarcity. Steady population growth in coming decades will produce a bigger demand for water. The world’s population is expected to top 9 billion by 2050. That means food production will need to double, and ramping up agricultural output requires setting aside more water for farming. More people also means a need for more energy. Providing power is one of the biggest consumers of water. By 2035, the World Bank predicts, energy is expected to consume 85 percent more water than it does now.
At the same time, global warming will push up temperatures, creating more evaporation — meaning there will be less water at a time when farms and power producers need more of it. And with global warming come rising sea levels, which destroy coastal aquifers with salinity, further reducing available fresh water.
It’s not that global warming sops up water and never returns it. Rather, water is being redistributed in ways that make matters worse for water-scarce regions. Those regions, for the most part, include poorer, developing countries that lack the wherewithal to solve water scarcity. Parts of the world most at risk include the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Central America. Overall, a quarter of mankind lives in places burdened by water scarcity, the report states. In 20 years, that share could double.
It all sounds fairly grim. The World Bank, however, offers up some solutions. Too many cities and towns around the world make water free. The report advocates pricing that reflects water’s value. We’re likely to be better stewards of water if we price it as the precious commodity it is.