The study from scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has published modelling showing that both freshwater availability and ecosystem properties are set to change significantly in the future.

Even if global warming is limited to 1.5-2° C above pre-industrial levels, 500 million people could be at risk – either due to aggravation of existing water scarcity, or from being newly exposed to it.

The report also found that if global mean temperature continue to rise to 3.5˚C above pre-industrial levels, nearly 668 million people will experience new or highly intensified water scarcity.

The most significant changes are expected to occur in the Middle East, North Africa, Southern Europe and the Southwestern United States.

While scientists acknowledge that the risk of reduced water availability could be partly be buffered through adaptive management, they warn that these measures might not be sufficient to meet increasing water and food demands of a growing world population.

“As a consequence, further expansion of irrigated or rain-fed cropland may be needed, which would, in turn, amplify the climate change impact on those areas,” the study noted.

Maxine Perella

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