Dr Mark Fletcher, Global Water Leader, Arup and member of BITC's Water Taskforce, lends us his thoughts on how water challenges have become central to thinking about the effects climate change is having on populations around the world, and Arup's work on these challenges.
Over the last year, I have visited, listened and presented at, and co-chaired almost more sustainability conferences than I care to remember. So what have I learned? That change is constant, and however you square it, the water cycle is at the heart of those changes that we're seeing across the globe.
Chairing a session at World Water Week 2015 in Stockholm on climate change and its impact on conflict helped broaden my horizon, and started changing my thinking. The theme of water was also clearly apparent at Paris COP21 in December 2015, where the #climateiswater! initiative championed by the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation focused on putting water-related issues at the heart of discussions about climate change adapatation and mitigation.
The UNFCCC recognises the connection, concluding that "the majority of climate change impacts will be felt through water", while the World Economic Forum has just identified ‘water crises’ as the main global risk of highest concern for the next 10 years. This is followed by ‘failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation’, ‘extreme weather events’ and ‘food crises’ – all integrally connected with water and the water cycle.
Meanwhile the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that by 2050 water scarcity could affect four billion people. It is clear that water is no longer moving up the agenda – it is the agenda for billions of people.
“ We want to be part of an increasing understanding of the role of the water cycle in people’s lives providing clear thinking and increasingly sustainable solutions. ”
Simultaneously, the world is rapidly urbanising and we have now passed the point in time where more people live in cities than in rural areas. We must understand how resilient our cities are to cope with the flexing of the water cycle in terms of too much water which results in flooding, or water stress and drought, as well as shock change, for example storms, and incremental change in sea level rises.
In the UK, the winter floods in the North of England forced home the impact of extremes of the water cycle on communities and demonstrated that in the face of devastating damage to people’s homes, resilience was the key.
Translating all this into simple messages for outreach and engagement is essential - whether through personal contact, social media or dialogue at conferences. But to do this, we must listen first.
Arup's Drivers of Change and BITC's Water Taskforce
At Arup we asked what the drivers of change were going to be for water management, which led to our global research initiative ‘Drivers of Change’ initially focused on water, energy, climate change, urbanisation, demographics and waste, but subsequently developed to include poverty, food and oceans because we understood the importance of putting water resilience at the heart of the conversation.
We will soon be sharing our learnings from a series of workshops held in Sao Paulo and Manila in 2015 on water resilience which explored how extreme change can impact on cities in terms of people, communities and their infrastructure and their preparedness. The latest work on the City Resilience Index (CRI) developed by Rockefeller Foundation and Arup is helping to explore thinking across cities, resilience, communities, infrastructure, the environment, economy and leadership.
I also sit on the Business in The Community Water Task Force, which has given me the chance to think about the role of resilience in water management. The Taskforce brings together a group of industry leaders to focus on practical action for water resilience and stewardship.
As a group we have changed our thinking around the role of water resilience, both through upper catchment management and downstream water sensitive urban designs. By using the concept of blue and green infrastructure we've helped promote new thinking and fresh learning in our communities as well as collaborative water management approaches to increase resilience in areas vulnerable to extreme events.
We want to be part of an increasing understanding of the role of the water cycle in people’s lives providing clear thinking and increasingly sustainable solutions.
We only have one planet and we have the opportunity to manage water much better going forward if we work together around the world and learn from each other, but we must start by listening, respecting our respective points of view and understanding the underlying context, then we can do something positive in this maelstrom of change.