Water: Our Common Ground

The Copenhagen climate negotiations are coming up, and it can be a bit daunting to think about all those delegates from around the world trying to reach an agreement when there are so many diverse ideas about what we should do.  Instead of focusing on our differences, we should try to remember that there is one thing everyone can agree on: the need to help water resources adapt to climate change.

As I blogged about back when the U.S. Senate's climate and energy bill was introduced, climate change impacts threaten the water that we all use to drink, swim, wash and bathe.  Rising temperatures and changing weather patterns will mean more floods and intense storms, longer droughts and shortages, and increased water pollution in America and around the world.  These changes will be expensive for our communities: a recent NACWA/AMWA report found that the cost to America's water utilities of adapting to climate change's effects could range from $448 billion to $944 billion.

No matter where in the world they live, most people agree that water is something we should be concerned about.  A GlobeScan/Circle of Blue worldwide poll found that more than 90% of people think water pollution and freshwater shortages are somewhat serious or very serious problems.  Since climate change will cause more of these problems, it could make sense for decision-makers to focus on them in order to find a common ground in climate negotiations.

In an op-ed in Monday's L.A. Times, water expert James Workman makes that very point.  "Water is the planet's one common denominator," he writes, arguing that water adaptation strategies should be a top priority in Copenhagen.  Mr. Workman also expresses frustration and confusion about the fact that many references to water have been deleted from the draft agreement text.

Mr. Workman's article does a great job of attracting attention to the critical issue of water adaptation.  And he's right that there aren't very many references to water remaining in the draft Copenhagen agreement text.  However, we at NRDC think there is still reason for optimism.  As my colleague Heather Allen blogged a few weeks ago, a couple of key references to water remain in a key adaptation non-paper.  (A "non-paper" is a proposed agreement or negotiating text circulated informally among delegations for discussion without committing the originating delegation's country to the contents.)

These references aren't quite enough to give water the full focus and attention that it deserves in the negotiations, and it's unclear whether and how they will be incorporated into the final agreement, but these non-paper provisions do highlight the value of water and ecosystems - and that's something the whole world can agree on.