March 22 is coming around again and this year UN World Water Day is highlighting the critical link between water and energy use.
Following on from 2013’s year of events in celebration of the UN International Year of Water Cooperation, World Water Day 2014 builds on the theme of cooperation, of interlinking and interdependency, drawing attention to the water-energy nexus.
Emphasis is on addressing the inequities suffered by the billion people who live truly impoverished lives, with severely limited or no access to safe drinking water, poor sanitation, inadequate energy services and insufficient food. Ambitious goals involve promoting the development of policies and frameworks that forge links across ministries and sectors and identify best practices needed for water and energy efficiency, leading the way to energy security and sustainable water use.
The UN explains: The lack of energy and water is for many one of the explanations for poverty and deprivation, which demonstrates economic development is a double-edged sword. Reducing poverty, triggering economic growth and building up a more inclusive society are outstanding collective achievements that accompany new and bigger social and environmental challenges and the need to reconcile the different objectives in the continuous quest for a sustainable development path. Success in economic growth requires harnessing the potential of ecosystems to satisfy the demands of water and energy which are essential for life, as well as the function of the many production and consumption processes, where water and energy intervene as irreplaceable inputs. However, this can also create increasing water scarcity, higher exposure to droughts and extended impacts over natural ecosystems that become increasingly transformed.
World Water Day events have appeared on the global calendar since 1993, emerging from the seminal United Nations convention of Rio De Janeiro in 1992. It is yet to become popular in New Zealand, but look for events near you, they’ll usually be promoted through local councils. Or you could organise your own WWD 2014 celebration. There are loads of materials and a wealth of useful information on the UN website.
New Zealand shares with the rest of the world strong competition for water, for while near half its allocated water is used for irrigation, electricity generation accounts for an only slightly lesser amount (41 per cent). Happily, our reliance on hydro-energy has been static and even reduced in recent times, so the consequences of our heavy reliance on irrigation has not been felt to the extent it could have, had New Zealand not been in the midst of a long recession. As the nation emerges from recessionary caution, energy and water use will surely rise. In addition, as urban environments prosper, so the need for waste water and storm water disposal increases, with local water ways the losers from resulting degradation effects. At the same time, more water is needed to provide the energy used for water and waste water treatment. The key to using less energy in urban environments is thus – use less water!
We’re already dealing with the severe impacts of dairying on water quality, to the point that many of our rivers, lakes, streams and estuaries are no longer pleasant, or indeed safe, to swim or fish in. Any increasing demand for water to drive hydro-electricity (or for coal extraction and fracking), has the potential to put our waterways more at risk of degradation. It would be a tragedy for current and future generations, if as a consequence of growth and an improving economy, New Zealand’s waterways were allowed to further degrade. Millions of dollars of restoration work is being undertaken to bring back some health to waterways, not to mention the millions of hours of volunteer effort – clean rivers and streams mean a great deal to New Zealanders – and this could all be at risk.
The lessons of the past and the message of World Water Day 2014 suggest we should act more urgently on the recent Land and Water forum recommendations and the various reports on water and energy from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. See earlier posts for details. Sensible policies, technologies, and collaborative approaches that deliver effective and efficient water and energy use, will help secure New Zealand’s sustainable future.