While corporate reporting on water risk is increasing, action is far behind amid growing scarcity of Earth's most precious resource. This month we profile some that are bucking the trend, and look at how the finance sector is waking up to the biodiversity crisis
Looking out on the rainy streets of a November day in London, it is difficult to fathom the severity of the global water crisis. But as Laurie Goering of the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports in the opening feature of this month’s briefing, fresh water is fast becoming a dangerously scarce resource.
According to the UN, a quarter of the world’s population is now using water much faster than natural sources can be replenished. And this will be exacerbated by the worsening impacts of climate change, growing populations, expanding farming and a rush of people to cities.
The conflict between people and agriculture is evident in water-scarce Chile, where avocado farmers are watering their plants every day while relying on trucked-in drinking water.
As Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute told Goering: “We’re going to have to do things differently ... and we have to move toward that more sustainable future faster than we are moving today.”
One of the leading authorities on the risk to companies from water scarcity is Cate Lamb, global director for water security at CDP. She was recently appointed to the High Level Climate Champions group at COP26 in Glasgow as lead on water issues. In an interview she tells how she intends to raise water’s profile so it is seen not just as a sector threatened by climate change, but as one with untapped potential to provide climate mitigation solutions.
Angeli Mehta, meanwhile, reports on how the finance sector is waking up to the dependence of its investments on healthy freshwater ecosystems, and explains some of the barrier that will need to be overcome for money to flow into biodiversity.
We look at two of the sectors on the frontline of water security risk. Catherine Early reports on the perfect storm engulfing the mining industry. Not only are mining companies located in some of the most water-scarce countries in the world, the industry is rapidly expanding to provide critical raw materials for the clean energy revolution, with severe implications for groundwater pollution and other environmental and social issues. She also profiles how Anglo American is innovating to buck the trend and halve freshwater use by 2030.
With 70% of freshwater going to agriculture, Mark Hillsdon looks at how three leading companies in the food and drink and agriculture sectors, Cargill, Unilever and Diageo, are making every drop count as they cut their water footprints.
Industry accounts for almost 20% of global water withdrawals, and as Angeli Mehta reports, there has been a 50% increase in the past few years, despite a near-doubling in the number of companies setting targets to reduce their water use.
She looks at how L’Oréal, Microsoft, BASF and Procter & Gamble are innovating to cut water use in their own operations – and beyond.
Nadine Hawa reports on a slow but steady shift to more sustainable alternatives and lower consumption of water in the Arabian Gulf, where two-thirds of water needs are met by desalination.
And Cate Lamb calls for a redesign of the fashion industry in her comment piece lamenting how only 10% of firms in the highly polluting sector show awareness of their environmental impacts.
We hope you enjoy this month’s issue. We end the year with an examination of how credible the race to net-zero is as we head into the final lap before COP26 in Glasgow at the end of next year.
High-Level Climate Champions CDP World Bank Group Finance for Biodiversity Pledge