Category Archives: Water and Climate Change

Climate Change and Water Resources in the Lower Mekong River Basin


This article summarizes the findings from a multidisciplinary research project looking at climate change impacts and adaptation in the Mekong River Basin in Southeast Asia. (Journal of Water and Climate Change)

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Droughts Could Hit Food Production in England in 2020s

The Farm-Yard with the Cock circa 1806-7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

(“The Farm-Yard with the Cock” by Joseph Mallord William Turner)

Without action, farmers in UK will face shortfalls of 50% of the water they currently use to grow crops, threatening most fertile areas. (The Guardian)

Droughts could devastate food production in the England by the 2020s, according to a report from the government’s official climate change advisers. Without action, increasingly hot and dry summers may mean farmers will face shortfalls of 50% of the water they currently use to grow crops. The report, from the climate change committee (CCC), also warns that current farming practices may be allowing the country’s richest soils to be washed or blown away.

The future risks to England’s food supply are becoming more apparent, with MPs warningthis month that the government’s failure to protect the most valuable farmland from flooding “poses a long-term risk to the security of UK food production” and food experts cautioning that crop yields are reaching their maximum biological limits. Extreme recentweather – the wettest recorded autumn followed by the coldest spring in half a century – cut wheat yields by one third, leading to the import of 2.5m tonnes of wheat, the same amount that is usually exported.

“If we don’t start acting now we will be in serious trouble,” said Lord John Krebs, who led the CCC report. “We already rely on food imports to a significant extent.” About 40% of the UK’s food is imported.

Despite recent gloomy summers and suggestions of more to come, most climate scientists are confident that summers in the medium term will become drier and hotter. The CCC found that a dry year in the 2020s could see an irrigation shortfall of 120bn litres, half the current total used by farmers. Furthermore, those areas most at risk of drought – the fields of east and southern England – are currently the most productive.

To avoid this, farmers will need to build twice as many reservoirs on their land than exist now and also cut by 50% the amount of water used per hectare. Ensuring that the cost of water reflects how scarce it is, is also crucial, according to the report. At present, for example, the cheapest water by far is provided by Anglian water, despite that region being one of the driest in the country.

But if the threat of drought can be avoided, said Krebs, climate change could represent an opportunity for farmers in England because there will be longer, warmer growing seasons. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published its strategy to adapt to global warming on 1 July and, while Krebs said it covered all the key areas, he added that it contained very few targets. “If it is just ‘talks about talks’, that is not going to help the country adapt,” he said. Krebs said new water abstraction rules, unchanged since the 1960s, were urgently needed, but government legislation is not planned until after 2015.

“There is a great deal of work happening to respond to the challenges the CCC has set out,” said environment minister Richard Benyon. “Just this week I’ve seen in the New Forest the work to join up different landscapes [and] we have set out in the water bill how we want to reform the water industry. However, this is not just a role for government; businesses, communities and local councils all need to play their part.”

Ceris Jones, NFU climate change adviser, said the water needed to grow food could be squeezed further by the competing needs of a growing population and taking less water from rivers to protect wildlife as summers get drier. She agreed more reservoirs are needed, but said farmers needed financial incentives to build them and urged more research on drought tolerant crops and efficient irrigation.

The CCC report, published on Wednesday, spells out the challenges for agriculture and other land uses from the extreme weather expected from global warming. It warned that carbon-rich soils on which many crops depend are being washed or blown away in places. “This comes down to the more careful stewardship of soils by farmers,” said Krebs.

The report also warned that the retreat from coastlines as sea level rises must be speeded up five-fold or risk serious flooding. Over half of England’s coastline is protected by sea walls, but rising seas are drowning the mudflats and salt marshes between the walls and the sea. This reduction leaves the sea walls more vulnerable to storms and the government has already agreed that 10% of sea walls must be moved inland by 2030. However, the current rate of realignment is far too slow, found the report.

The degradation of peatlands, which store huge amounts of carbon and act as sponges to reduce flooding, must be reversed, the report concluded. The damage is caused by burning, to encourage new heather growth for grouse shoots, and overgrazing by sheep, but Krebs said the management of peatland must be rebalanced towards the wider public benefits.

The report also warns the proportion of England’s most important wildlife sites that are in good condition has fallen from 42% to 37% in the last decade and that the majority of native species are suffering long term population declines. However, more sites now have action plans for improvement, noted Krebs. “If the action plans are delivered, things could get much better. It boils down to whether they are just a gleam in someone’s eye.”

Friends of the Earth’s Andrew Pendleton said: “Climate change poses a devastating threat to our environment, food supplies and security, which could trigger future economic crises. Urgent government measures are needed.”


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A Flagship World Bank Report on Water and Climate Change

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Climate change may reintroduce water security challenges in countries that for a hundred years have enjoyed reliable water supplies and few, if any, water shocks. (World Bank)

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Water and Climate Change


Below are some quotes from reknowned international organizations on Water and Climate Change to use as a reference:

There is evidence that the global climate is changing.
Source: World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP)

Water is the primary medium through which climate change impacts the earth’s ecosystem and people.
Climate change is the fundamental driver of change in the world’s water resources and adds additional stress through its effects on other externalities.
Source: WWAP

Collecting water is expected to become increasingly burdensome with global warming. More regions will experience water shortages, as rainfall becomes erratic, glaciers melt and seas rise. People living within 60 miles of a shoreline — a full third of the world’s population — will be hit especially hard, as they are most susceptible to increased salinity of coastal potable water sources.
As it takes more time to gather water and fuel, the available time for education or other economic and political activities decreases. Already, the majority of children worldwide who do not attend school are girls.
Source: UN Women

Water resource management impacts almost all aspects of the economy, in particular, health, food production and security, domestic water supply and sanitation, energy, industry and environmental sustainability.
Source: WWAP

Climate variability, water resource management and economic development are intricately linked. Vulnerability to natural disasters affecting the water supply hampers economic performance and undermines poverty reduction goals and achievement of the MDGs.
Source: WWAP

Climate change is predicted to have a whole range of impacts on water resources. Variation in temperature and rainfall may affect water availability, increase the frequency and severity of floods and droughts, and disrupt ecosystems that maintain water quality.
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)


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Andean glaciers melting at ‘unprecedented’ rates


Andean glaciers are retreating at their fastest rates in more than 300 years, according to a new study


Climate change could melt the Andean glaciers away altogether in coming years, says the new study. Photograph: Dan Chung

Climate change has shrunk Andean glaciers between 30 and 50% since the 1970s and could melt many of them away altogether in coming years, according to a study published on Tuesday in the journal The Cryosphere.

Andean glaciers, a vital source of fresh water for tens of millions of South Americans, are retreating at their fastest rates in more than 300 years, according to the most comprehensive review of Andean ice loss so far.

The study included data on about half of all Andean glaciers in South America, and blamed the ice loss on an average temperature rise of 0.7 degree Celsius over the past 70 years.

“Glacier retreat in the tropical Andes over the last three decades is unprecedented,” said Antoine Rabatel, the lead author of the study and a scientist with the Laboratory for Glaciology and Environmental Geophysics in Grenoble, France.

The researchers also warned that future warming could totally wipe out the smaller glaciers found at lower altitudes that store and release fresh water for downstream communities.

“This is a serious concern because a large proportion of the population lives in arid regions to the west of the Andes,” said Rabatel.

The Chacaltaya glacier in the Bolivian Andes, once a ski resort, has already disappeared completely, according to some scientists.

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