WWF: The High Cost Of Cheap Water
To mark this year’s World Food Day, which took place on October 16th, the WWF has published its latest report – The High Cost of Cheap Water – revealing the first-ever annual estimate of the economic value of water and freshwater ecosystems… more than €11 trillion in Europe, which is approximately 2.5 times the gross domestic product of Germany.
However, despite this, freshwater ecosystems across the continent are now in a downward spiral, which puts this value at increasing risk.
It seems that up to 90 per cent of the floodplains in Europe have now been lost, while 60 per cent of all rivers, lakes and surface water bodies are no longer in good condition.
Further research also indicates that the recovery of freshwater biodiversity that was seen in the 90s and 2000s stopped in the 2010s, all of which is now being exacerbated by the pressures of climate change, as well as land misuse and mismanagement.
This, in turn, is increasing the risks of water stress and extreme weather events like flooding, as well as putting greater pressure on economies and undermining efforts around the world to reverse environmental degradation.
World Food Day
World Food Day brings together 150 countries from all over the world, with hundreds of events and activities taking place to connect governments, businesses, municipalities, members of the public and the media, promoting global awareness of hunger and promoting action for our collective future.
This year, the call was issued to stop taking water for granted, given that just 2.5 per cent of water is fresh and suitable for drinking, agriculture and industry.
It’s essential to recognise that water is not a finite resource and supplies are now being put under increasing levels of stress thanks to rapid population growth, economic development, urbanisation, climate change and so on.
In fact, the available freshwater resources per person around the world has dropped 20 per cent in the last few decades, with availability and quality being affected by overabstraction of groundwater, pollution, climate change and water mismanagement.
Given the severity of the situation, now’s the time to start managing water resources more wisely, ensuring that food can be produced in such a way as to use less water, as well as making sure that water is distributed equally and preserving aquatic food systems at the same time.
In order to achieve this, governments around the world will need to develop evidence-based policies that make use of data, innovation and cross-sector coordination to manage water more effectively. Increased investment and legislation will be required, as well as more technological developments and incentives for farmers and the private sector to find more efficient ways of using water to conserve it for future generations.
The High Cost Of Cheap Water
The WWF report calls for implementation of the EU Nature Restoration Law to help restore freshwater ecosystems, which are absolutely vital to ensure access to clean and sufficient water supplies for people all over the continent.
Claire Baffert, senior water policy officer at the WWF European Policy Office, commented on the findings, saying: “Despite having robust EU legislation to protect our waters for decades, poor implementation combined with overexploitation and Europe’s knee-jerk tendency to use concrete infrastructure to try to fix water-related problems, means our freshwater ecosystems are broken.
“The urgently-needed EU Nature Restoration Law can help Europe tackle its current and worsening water crisis by repairing the freshwater ecosystems which are vital for clean and plentiful water for drinking, food, industry and biodiversity.”
It was also found that the direct economic benefits of this (including irrigation for agriculture and industry, as well as domestic water consumption) amount to almost €1 trillion each year in Europe.
The unseen benefits should also not be discounted, such as improving soil health, water purification, carbon capture and storage, and protection from extreme floods and droughts… and it’s estimated that these benefits are ten times higher, at approximately €10 billion each year.
These economic values are being put at risk, however, by the degradation of waterways and groundwater aquifers, while EU action on climate and nature is also now being undermined as a result. As it now stands, Europe is home to the most broken river landscape in the world, with over a million barriers in place.
Stuart Orr, WWF global freshwater lead, made further comments, saying that it’s essential we remember that water doesn’t come out of a tap, rather that it comes from the natural world.
“Water for all depends on healthy freshwater ecosystems, which are also the foundation of food security, biodiversity hotspots and the best buffer and insurance against intensifying climate impacts. Reversing the loss of freshwater ecosystems will pave the way to a more resilient, nature-positive and sustainable future for all,” he went on to add.
The EU Nature Restoration Law
Last year, the European Commission proposed a new law to restore ecosystems, the first continent-wide comprehensive law to be considered.
It forms a key part of the EU Biodiversity Strategy, which wants to see binding targets put in place to restore these ecosystems, particularly those that have the greatest potential for carbon capture and storage, with the aim being to prevent and reduce the impact of natural disasters.
By focusing on the restoration of forests, grasslands, rivers, wetlands, marine ecosystems and so on, biodiversity will increase, global warming will be limited to 1.5 degrees C, Europe will become more resilient in the face of natural disasters and food security risks, air and water will both be cleaner, crop pollination will continue and flood protection will be secured.
Proposed restoration targets include no net loss of green urban space by 2030, increasing grassland butterflies and farmland birds, achieving increasing trends for standing and lying deadwood, forest connectivity, reversing the decline of pollinators by 2030 and restoring at least 25,000km of rivers to free-flowing states by 2030.
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