Skip to content

Water Justice: the heart of Climate Justice

In Copenhagen, the fight for climate justice was dealt a severe setback. Attempts by powerful governments (including Canada) to sideline international norms and trash multilateralism proved to be a critical stumbling block and remain a major threat to any hope of dealing with global warming in a comprehensive manner. The struggle continues to unfold, and despite the setbacks, it was inspiring to see small island nations take a stand and tens of thousands of youth in the streets to defend their future and reclaim their power. The other good news coming out of Copenhagen was that the water justice movement found her voice in advocating positive solutions to the global climate crisis.

Water is critical to any discussion of climate. You cannot talk about climate without talking about the many faces of water. Flooding, drought, brackish aquifers, environmental refugees, melting glaciers; these are the frontlines of Climate Change and foreshadow a dystopic water future if we take no effective action today. Siphoning water out of watersheds – diverting, damming, and polluting it – disrupts the natural cooling of the planet. Solar energy ceases to fuel the hydrological cycle as we know it, restoring surface waters, aquifers, and spreading rains to distant dry lands. Instead the air and land are left to absorb the energy, raising the temperature and releasing more Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere from melting ice and dying forests. The system feeds back on itself.

There is, however, a more profound place for water in the climate change discourse beyond the impacts. Without water there is no climate, without water there is no life, without water the earth is a seared and barren land. Water cools our planet, water turns the solar energy into biomass and sequesters carbon naturally. Even as water in excess or in drought is the instrument of climate destruction, it is also the only real way to mitigate climate change!

It is fitting that this April in Cochabamba, water activists from around the world will converge on the city that could well claim to be the source of the movement. 10 years ago the murder of Victor Hugo Daza, a 17 year-old Cochabambino peacefully protesting against water privatization, sparked a consciousness and the birth of a movement which grows in strength day by day. Fittingly, the Feria del Agua or Festival of Water, celebrating social movements on water, will occur immediately before the People’s Climate Summit where governments will hear from civil-society and work collectively in advance of COP 16 in Mexico later this year. In the lead-up to Copenhagen, during COP 15, and since, a committed team of global water activists have been collaborating to organize and reach out to other movements to shed light on the critical links between water and climate. This work was very successful in Copenhagen but will expand considerably in Bolivia. This is critical work.

We know that by effectively managing our water, we can do more to deal with global warming than all the offsets or geo-engineering schemes we could devise. Even if we were able to turn the tap off on fossil fuels, we still need to deal with the global water crisis to ensure the planet’s natural air conditioning system does not falter. To achieve these goals we work in the manner the water justice movement has since its beginnings: We work collectively, in community, and for water as a commons. Through these efforts we will secure human rights, a sustainable future and water justice.