January 25, 2008

Water Shortage, Warming Threaten Stability

This week, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) -- the largest society of Earth and space scientists in the world -- issued a position paper on global climate change, warning that "the Earth's climate is now clearly out of balance and is warming," and that these changes are "not natural".

The report states that evidence from most oceans and all continents except Antarctica shows warming attributable to human activities.

"Many components of the climate system"”including the temperatures of the atmosphere, land and ocean, the extent of sea ice and mountain glaciers, the sea level, the distribution of precipitation, and the length of seasons"”are now changing at rates and in patterns that are not natural and are best explained by the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activity," the AGU Council wrote in the report.

The Council further warned that warming greater than 2°C above 19th century levels is projected to reduce global agricultural productivity, cause widespread loss of biodiversity, and"”if sustained over centuries"”melt much of the Greenland ice sheet causing sea levels to rise several meters.   

However, the report said this could be avoided by a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions within this century.

The report was the first revision to its initial position statement on global climate change in 2003, which said the issue should be studied on a global basis to better understand the impact on the planet.

Concerns about global climate change, and in particular a looming water shortage crisis, are also a priority among the world's political and business leaders meeting this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

During the Forum, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the world to take action to prevent conflicts over scarce water supplies throughout the world. He warned the VIP audience that the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan was touched off by drought, and that water shortages currently contribute to poverty and social hardship in Somalia, Chad, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Colombia and Kazakhstan.  

Indeed, a recent report by International Alert, an independent peacebuilding organization in London, identified 46 countries with 2.7 billion people where climate change and water-related crises create "a high risk of violent conflict" and an additional 56 countries, with 1.2 billion people "are at high risk of violent conflict."  

"Too often, where we need water we find guns instead," Ban told Associated Press. "Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon."

Ban told leaders at the Forum he welcomed this year's spotlight on water shortage, saying the session should be named: "Water is running out."   His call for global action on water got strong support from several top business executives.

"Water is today's issue," said Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical Co. (DOW), the world's second largest chemical company, in an Associated Pres interview.

"It is the oil of this century, not a question." E. Neville Isdell, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Co. (KO), told AP, "this is an issue which ranks next to climate change. ... However, water has got lost as part of the climate change debate."

Isdell encouraged the world to "raise the issue of water to the level that we have managed to raise the issue of climate change."

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman and CEO of Nestle SA, told AP, "time is still on our side but time is running out, just like water is running out."

Ban urged top business executives to join a U.N. project to help poor people gain access to clean water - and he praised Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical and Nestle for their programs and their efforts to be part of the water solution.

He also said he will hold "a critical high-level meeting" with world leaders in September to focus on meeting U.N. development goals such as cutting by half the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015. He urged top business executives to join a U.N. project to help poor people gain access to clean water - and he praised Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical and Nestle for their programs and their efforts to be part of the water solution.


On the Net:

Additional information about this year's World Economic Forum can be found  at http://www.weforum.org/en/events/AnnualMeeting2008/index.htm.

Information about the  American Geophysical Union (AGU) can be viewed at their website  http://www.agu.org/.

The AGU's full position statement on Climate Change can be viewed  at http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/policy/positions/climate_change2008.shtml.