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  • Writer's pictureCorinne Atton

Ten Takeaways from the Nature Article: “Why We Need a New Economics of Water as a Common Good”

An insightful article in Nature this week calls for water to “be recast as a global common good,” with an obligation established “under international law to protect the global water cycle for all people and generations … acknowledging that actions in one place have impacts in another.”

Ten key takeaways from the article include:

· Water is the lifeblood of our planet. Water managers assume that ‘blue’ fresh water — the “liquid that runs off the land and is stored in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and underground aquifers … will be continually replenished, naturally, within historical ranges,” but, in many places, this is no longer true.

· “Each 1°C of global warming increases global mean precipitation by 1–3%,” and the impacts of this “will be felt unevenly” across the globe.

· “Deforestation, land degradation and infrastructure development are … altering precipitation patterns and affecting where water comes from and ends up,” and “Excessive extraction for irrigation and industry is aggravating water shortages in river basins” around the world.

· Management of fresh water on a global scale must include “green water” – “Flows of moisture and vapour from land and vegetation” which “are essential for regulating the water cycle and securing future rainfall,” and which also enable “carbon sequestration in soils and forests.”

· “A new view of interconnectivity is emerging” – some countries are self-sufficient in green water and precipitation, whereas others export a significant percentage of their green water to downwind countries. In these downwind countries, rainfall “will drop if deforestation” continues upwind. In fact, “no country acquires over half of its moisture from within its own boundaries” – “even the largest countries rely on evaporation from other areas to sustain their precipitation.”

· “Treating water as a collective resource requires rethinking its economics” – “governments need to reshape water markets,” and water needs to be valued “as an asset that generates functions and services for human well-being.”

· The “social cost of water” (akin to the “social cost of carbon”) must be considered – “the the costs to society of loss and damage caused by water extremes and not meeting the basic provision of water for human needs.”

· “When private companies benefit from public subsidies, guarantees, loans, bailouts and procurements,” governments could condition contracts “to maximise public benefits.”

· Mechanisms need to be developed to oversee water resources both locally, and on a global level – “For example, nations might pledge to ensure that the supply of green and blue water in the hydrological cycle inside their borders remains within a manageable range, as defined by safe planetary limits or boundaries,” and “Targets and strategies must be designed to initiate coordination, finance and innovations.”

· In short, all sectors must be involved, and “cooperation and exchange of knowledge” will be “crucial.”


(Content and acknowledgment: Nature – Comment – March 22, 2023 – Johan Rockström, Mariana Mazzucato, Lauren Seaby Andersen, Simon Felix Fahrländer and Dieter Gerten)

(Image acknowledgment - Maxime Aliaga/Nature Picture Library)


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