Editor's blog: Water for a warming world

Posted: 23 October 2008

As a matter of convenience, this website stores its news and feature stories under 16 separate headings - from Pollution to Poverty and Cities to Coasts. In reality, of course, all these topics overlap and interact. But as time goes by two issues seem increasingly to demand attention, often together. They are Water and Climate Change, closely associated with the issues of Population, Food and Biodiversity.

Woman by a clean water tapstand, Nepal
Woman by a clean water tapstand, Nepal. Photo © CIWEM/Marco Betti. From the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)'s Environmental Photographer of the Year Exhibition, supported by Oxford Scientific (OSF), which runs until 10th October at the Mile End Arts Pavilion, East London.

Take, for instance, the little noticed decision by Spain to spend 90 million euros planting 45 million indigenous trees - one for every resident - in just over three years, to fight against global warming. This marks an understanding by one government at least that much of the Mediterranean basin, where the coastal population and human settlements are growing fast, faces a critical future of drought and desertification as the climate warms and the land erodes, threatening both biodiversity and food supplies. (See: Mediterranean forests are a burning issue).Another Mediterranean country, Turkey, has already planted 400 million trees, as part of the UN Environment Programme's drive to plant 7 billion trees. So there are some positive moves in that direction. (See: UNEP launches 7 billion tree campaign). But, less hopeful, is the continuing destruction of the tropical rainforest, a resource that contains 30 per cent of the planet's fresh water and stores 40 per cent of all carbon in terrestrial life, plus a third of all carbon stored in the world's soils. The latest example of that destruction comes from clearance of vast areas of rainforest for palm oil-based biofuels, which research now proves will worsen the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity. (See: Oil palm plantations no substitute for rainforests ).

Maasai planting a tree
A Maasai planting a tree on Earth Day in Kenya.

Another recent report says that global investment in water supplies needs to be at least doubled from the current level of $80bn (£45.5bn) a year. Indeed, one leading authority says it needs to increase a thousand times, or to 1.5 per cent of annual gross domestic product, just "to be able to cope with the current climate". (See: Spend more or face water catastrophe.) Of course, there are other reasons to be concerned about climate change, which will affect every aspect of life on earth, but. investing in sustainable forms of agriculture and in improved water infrastructure, while restoring the planet's forest cover and slowing its population growth, are certainly part of the solution.

John Rowley

Film footnote:

Payback Time, a highly recommended half-hour Earth Report, is now available as a DVD from TVE. It tells how Germany has sparked a remarkable renewable energy revolution by shortening the payback time for companies and people installing wind turbines and solar panels - and guaranteeing an income from the grid. It is a lesson that the rest of the world needs to urgently learn. To see a trailer (QuickTime player required) go to TVE and to read more about the film. Order your DVD by emailing distribution@tve.org.uk.