Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Water Cycle Instability Is Here to Stay, Posing Major Political and Economic Risks

The current instability and unpredictability of the world water cycle is here to stay, making society's adaptation to new risks a vital necessity when formulating development policies, a UN water expert warns.

The Water Cycle: Graphic showing the movement of water through the water cycle. (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Robert Sandford, the EPCOR Chair for Water and Climate Security at the United Nations University's Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), says long-term water cycle stability "won't return in the lifetime of anyone alive today."

"What we haven't understood until now is the extent to which the fundamental stability of our political structures and global economy are predicated on relative stability and predictability of the water cycle -- that is, how much water becomes available in what part of the year.  As a result of these new water-climate patterns, political stability and the stability of economies in most regions of the world are now at risk."

Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, a former Executive Director of the UN Environment Program, and UN Under Secretary-General David Malone, Rector of UN University, are among several expert speakers joined Sandford in Ottawa Tuesday April 5 at UNU-INWEH's day-long 20th anniversary public seminar, "Water: The Nexus of Sustainable Development and Climate Change."
Blown the fuse?
"Rising mean temperatures have begun to change a vast array of visible and invisible parameters that define the very foundation of the world as we know it," says Sandford.

"For generations, global water cycle stationarity has allowed us to confidently predict and manage the effects of weather and climate on our energy systems, cities and food systems.  Engineers and others working in construction and development planning also rely on this predictability to define infrastructure safety standards."

"Its loss -- and the consequences of extreme droughts and floods that result -- require us to anticipate profound adjustments to the way we do business over the coming decades, and to make adaptation central to global policy making.  This new focus on adaptation will transform policy, political, economic and social systems."

"It is a very real fear among experts," Sandford says, "that we have blown the natural systems fuse that controls planetary land and sea-surface temperatures -- that we are now likely passing over an invisible threshold into a new global hydro-climatic state.  In other words, climate change may have already gotten away on us."

Human migration associated in part with climate change is one of the major shifts already underway, with enormous political, economic and social implications.

By one estimate, for example, 3.5 million middle class citizens have left drought stricken California since 1993, in part because of water restrictions and increasing property damage due to wildfires. They are being replaced by large numbers of Latin American citizens, themselves fleeing a range of challenges.

"Yet we are witnessing only the tip of the iceberg," says Sandford.

Read more at Water Cycle Instability Is Here to Stay, Posing Major Political and Economic Risks

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