We need more focus on the water issue in the climate debate
Water and climate are inevitably interconnected. One of the most serious consequences of climate change is how they make the water cycle more unpredictable, so that both floods and droughts become increasingly extreme. In the long run, many places on earth risk becoming uninhabitable.
Sweden will also feel these changes, even though we are far from becoming an uninhabitable region. The summers of recent years have been characterized by extremes that we will see more and more of in the future: one year forest fires and water shortages, another year extreme storms and floods.
Still, this is not something we usually talk much about in Sweden. So far, the climate debate has focused almost exclusively on how we can make society less dependent on fossil fuels. It is of course important, we need to reduce our emissions through renewable energy, sustainable consumption and climate-neutral industrial processes. Only then can we achieve the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting climate change to 2 degrees.
But that is not enough. Even if we manage to reduce emissions, we have already emitted so much greenhouse gases that the temperature will continue to rise. We must therefore also talk more about how we adapt to the climate changes that we already feel, and which will get worse in the future. How we handle a situation with more extreme water situations, both too much and too little water, then becomes a crucial question. How do we ensure that we have enough water for agriculture, industry and households? How do we prioritize if the water is not enough? How do we ensure that our infrastructure and our cities are better equipped to handle floods and extreme rainfall?
The issue of climate adaptation will be one of the most important in the future, for municipalities, companies and individuals. Another, often overlooked, aspect concerns the water needed to cope with the transition to a society with less greenhouse gas emissions; Are our water resources sufficient even if we invest more in biofuels and increased energy production from hydropower?
Hopefully this work will start to pick up speed anyway. The National Council of Experts on Climate Adaptation is currently working on a report on Sweden's climate adaptation work with proposals for the continued direction. SMHI has been commissioned to review how we can get a better overview of our water use in order to be able to plan for a sustainable water future. The vast majority of municipalities have to some extent identified the need for climate adaptation within the municipality. At the same time, this work is slow; The National Council of Experts' report will not be published until the end of 2021, and many municipalities have not yet come very far in addressing the problems identified.
Now is the time to gather strength to prepare Sweden for the challenges we know we have ahead of us. We must take a better holistic approach to water issues and involve many more in the management of our common water resources. Investment in water infrastructure that has been neglected for many years will also be required. But those costs are modest compared to the price we will pay both financially and humanly if we do not rebuild society to withstand the warmer climate.
On 30 September, SMHI and SIWI Swedish Water House will gather many of Sweden's leading experts on water and climate for a webinar on how water can help us deal with the climate crisis, both in Sweden and globally. Sign up here!