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Water and the Copenhagen climate change talks

In her Earth Day address to the United Nations General Assembly in April, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow said, “The water crisis is perhaps the most urgent ecological and human threat of our time and the first – and most devastating – face of climate change.”

This past August, the Associated Press reported that, “Participants at the World Water Week conference (in Stockholm) said climate change will severely affect water supplies and poorer countries need support to help them adapt. (This) appeal ended a weeklong conference of more than 2,500 scientists, politicians and officials in the Swedish capital.”

Anders Berntell, head of the Stockholm International Water Institute, said, “At the moment the water issue doesn’t get enough attention in the climate negotiations. To be effective, climate negotiations must factor in the impact and importance of water for the world and, indeed, human well-being.”

In his book ‘The Weather Makers’, University of Adelaide professor Tim Flannery writes, “One of the most certain predictions of climate science is that as our planet warms more rain will fall at high latitudes in the winter …a very bad thing for the inhabitants of the Arctic… (and that) further south increases in winter rain (will also bring) unwelcome change.”

In other regions “climate change will tip into perpetual rainfall deficit.” For example, he notes Africa’s Sahel region where “a single climatic variable was responsible for much of the rainfall decline: rising sea-surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean, which resulted from an accumulation of greenhouse gases.” And as the ocean warmed, “the conditions that generated the Sahelian monsoons weakened” and therefore brought drought.

Flannery also writes that, “The south-western corner of Western Australia once enjoyed one of the most reliable of rainfall regimes. (But since 1975) the region has endured a decrease in rainfall averaging 15 percent. Climate models indicate that about half the decline results from global warming, which has pushed the temperate weather zone southward.”

“Western Australia’s capital is Perth, a thirsty city of 1.5 million people… For Perth, the most crucial impact of the decline in winter rainfall was less water in the city’s catchments… (As a result, there was) a cut of 50 per cent to the city’s surface water supply. …By early 2005, nearly thirty years after the crisis first emerged, the city’s water experts rated the chance of a ‘catastrophic failure of supply’ – which means no water coming out of the tap – at one in five.”

Flannery highlights, “the potential of climate change to spawn drought almost anywhere on the planet is so great that leading climatologists have recently warned that ‘it would be a mistake to assume any region is safe from megadrought’.”

CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT ON WATER IN CANADA The David Suzuki Foundation has written on the impacts of climate change on water in Ontario. They say:

– Lake levels are expected to decline in both inland lakes and Ontario’s four Great Lakes, as more moisture evaporates due to warmer temperatures and less ice cover.

– Reduced summer water levels are likely to diminish the recharge of groundwater, cause small streams to dry up, and reduce the area of wetlands, resulting in poorer water quality and less wildlife habitat.

– Climate change will also mean an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts and flooding.

For British Columbia, they write that, “the health of this unique region is threatened by climate change. Warmer, drier winters mean lighter snowpacks in the mountains. Less snow means less runoff to the rivers that depend on melting mountain snow. Warmer streams with less water affect the spawning and migration of salmon. Warmer temperatures also mean forests are drying out, becoming more vulnerable to fires and disease outbreaks.”

In an AlterNet interview last February, Maude Barlow said, “The single most important thing that we can do for global warming, aside from stopping the overpumping of greenhouse gas emissions, is to retain water in watersheds. Because the hydrologic cycle is what cools the temperature. Global warming can be averted through a great extent if we could maintain watersheds and maintain the cycle in its purest form.”

She added, “We usually hear water being a result of climate change, and it is, particularly with the melting of the glaciers. But our abuse, mismanagement and treatment of water is actually one of the causes, and we have not placed that analysis at the center of our thinking about climate change and environmental destruction, and until we do, we are only addressing half the question.”

On February 13, EurActive reported that, “(Mikhail Gorbachev), the former Soviet leader, launched a high-profile water initiative in the European Parliament yesterday calling for water issues to be included in UN negotiations over a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, due to be agreed in Copenhagen in December.”

“Mikhail Gorbachev said the inclusion of water in global climate talks should be a high priority.”

“(His Memorandum for a World Water Protocol calls for) the establishment of a world water plan featuring:
– The universal right to water and sanitation, and; -acknowledging the universal individual and collective responsibility regarding safeguarding water for future generations.”

“Maude Barlow, special advisor on water issues to the president of the UN general assembly, said that while water is ‘half of the climate change equation,’ the chances of getting water added to the Copenhagen agenda are ‘slim’.”

Barlow added, “Copenhagen is already so contentious. There are so many issues, and we are late in trying to get it in there. However, I think we should try. And even if we don’t succeed in getting it officially recognised in Copenhagen, it can be there as part of the round of post-Copenhagen talks.”

The Council of Canadians will be present at the climate change talks in Copenhagen this coming December. We will be advocating for strong new commitments from Canada and countries around the world to address the worsening climate crisis.

To read about the Council of Canadians climate justice campaign, please go to http://canadians.org/energy/issues/climatejustice/index.html.

In June 2008, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a technical paper on climate change and water. That 210 page report is at http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_and_data_technical_papers_climate_change_and_water.htm.

The Associated Press report from the World Water Week forum in Stockholm is at http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=1938.

The AlterNet interview with Maude Barlow is at http://www.alternet.org/water/76819.

News stories on the Memorandum can be read at http://www.greencrossinternational.net/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=189&Itemid= and http://www.euractiv.com/en/environment/europe-unaware-water-footprint/article-179532.

The David Suzuki backgrounder on the climate change impacts on water is at http://www.davidsuzuki.org/Climate_Change/Impacts/water.asp.

Tim Flannery’s book The Weather Makers: How we are changing the climate and what it means for life on Earth is available in libraries and bookstores.