Water demand underlies many of the problems we face, says prof David King

The "short-termism" from Government and the private sector, combined with a growing population, means "we are already using the next generation's fresh water supply, says professor David King.

Opening Global Action Plan’s 20th Anniversary conference in London today, the foreign secretary’s special representative on climate change said that today the population is in a position where ground fresh water lakes are being ‘mined out’.

“As we move forward in time, we see a crisis in terms of fresh water needs for this growing humanity,” he added.

King hailed the advances in science, medicine and engineering made in the 20th century, calling the explosion in global population a huge “success story” but this increase is now causing a severe strain on the world’s natural resources.

“The advances in the 20th century have driven human well-being but this has left us with an enormous hangover. This hangover is the result of these successes in the 20th century,” he said.

King explained that this continues to put strain on water supplies due to the increasing demand from the growing global middle class.

However, to just tackle water security alone would be impractical says King and without considering the impact of other issues, such as energy and climate change, the overall impact could actually be worse, he added.

“In physics terms, this is what we call a ‘many body’ problem. If you try and tackle one issue, such as water security without looking at other issues you can create dire problems elsewhere” he says.

“So desalinating water is the technical solution but it’s an energy intensive process, so you’re creating trouble for energy security. Another example is if you’re in the middle-east you burn oil to make fresh water, which is adding to the commodity challenge.

“And if you burn oil and coal to make fresh water from saline water your putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and you’re bringing about climate change, and therefore you’re making the problems of desertification even worse,” added King.

A major issue driving this ineffective approach is “short-term thinking” said King.

“Whether it’s politicians or private sector companies, they all seem to be concerned about the next three months not the next 50 years and so this notion of short-termism myopia is the underlying trend that we need to deal with” added King.

Leigh Stringer

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