"We often say water is life," says Alzbeta Klein, Director General of the International Fertilizer Association. "And I'd like to add to it: water is food." She spoke at a GZERO Live event organized by the Sustainability Leaders Council, a partnership between Eurasia Group, GZERO Media, and Suntory, exploring the emerging issue of water insecurity.
Some 90% of the world's freshwater is used to grow food, meaning that every single drop that can be saved through more efficient uses of water and fertilizer in farming represents one step closer to ensuring all human beings have safe, fresh water to drink.
Watch the full livestream conversation: The global water crisis and the path to a sustainable future
Over 70% of the Earth's surface is covered in water, but less than 0.02% is fresh water in lakes and rivers. An even smaller fraction of that fresh surface water is safe for humans to consume and farm. Still, according to Brian Richter, President of Sustainable Waters, humans are drawing too heavily on those resources without allowing replenishment.
What's worse, climate change is threatening to exacerbate the problem by drying out some already overstressed water sources, like the Colorado river.
"By the year 2050, we could have between 20 and 30% less water in that river system because of climate warming," he said during a GZERO Live event organized by the Sustainability Leaders Council, a partnership between Eurasia Group, GZERO Media, and Suntory. Watch what he says to find out why he's still hopeful humans will adapt.
Watch the full livestream conversation: The global water crisis and the path to a sustainable future
In the past decade, we’ve seen an explosion in medical and biotechnologies like gene editing with CRISPR, synthetic organs, cloning, and AI-powered prosthetics that are helping to eradicate disease, improve the human condition, and enhance our brain power. These developments have radically transformed our understanding of the human body and what we thought was possible. But like most new tech, there’s also potential for misuse, privacy concerns, and ethical implications. Gene editing can cure debilitating diseases but also lead to designer babies. AI learning algorithms can power neural implants but also potentially create new chemical weapons.
Ian Bremmer delves into that tension on the GZERO World Podcast with Siddhartha Mukherjee, a physician and biologist whose new book, “The Song of the Cell,” explores the science, history, and technology behind what he calls “the new humans.”
What would you do if you turned on the tap one day and nothing came out? By 2025, water scarcity is expected to affect about 50% of the world’s 8 billion people, and climate change is worsening the problem by changing global weather patterns.
That’s why this year’s COP28 climate summit, which kicks off Thursday in the United Arab Emirates, added water scarcity to the agenda, bringing it to the forefront of climate negotiations. In advance of the summit, the Sustainability Leaders Council - a partnership between Eurasia Group, GZERO Media, and Suntory - brought together leading experts and industry leaders to discuss the problem and possible solutions for a GZERO Live event.
Brian Richter, president of Sustainable Waters, framed the problem simply: Growing populations are straining fresh water sources by taking more water out faster than it can be replaced through natural processes like rainfall and snowmelt. Even in parts of advanced economies, like the arid western United States, farmers are struggling to adapt — and adapt they must.
“Irrigated farming is responsible for consuming about 90% of all the water that we use on the planet,” said Richter. “Anything that we can do to reduce that need, to grow our food, that's going to be very, very important.”
Efficiently using agricultural water will also help mitigate some of the adverse effects of heavy fertilizer use, which farmers can’t live without, according to Alzbeta Klein, director general of the International Fertilizer Association.
“Water is food,” she said. “What gives me a lot of hope is that the solutions actually exist. We know how to deliver plant nutrients through every drop of water and maximize the efficiency of every drop.”
Luckily, farmers are on board to change. Mike Nemeth, senior advisor of Agricultural and Environmental Sustainability at Nutrien, said he’s optimistic because of the “interest that I hear from the farming community about their willingness and desire to be part of water solutions – not just for their farm, not just for their area, but for the agri-food industry.”
And Shigeaki Kazama from beverage company Suntory, sponsor of the event, illustrated how the industrial sector can take the lead in innovating ways to recharge water sources. For over 20 years, Suntory has managed natural woodlands to recharge underground aquifers in the communities where it works.
“We now manage totally 22 forest areas that in total cover 12,000 hectares, which recharge twice the amount of groundwater that we take for our production in Japan.”
More intentional planning for water reuse can have a major impact, according to Colm Jordan of Indorama Ventures, which produces chemicals and associated products.
“We've managed to reduce water consumption by 90% in our facilities in Brazil by recycling the water, cleaning it, and using it again,” he explained.
Helping companies make those kinds of water-related shifts can mean big money for investors, too, said Manoj Jain, investment director at Unison Capital. “The material recovery, conversion of waste and plastic into fuel, desulfurizing the air, the flue-gases, all this is very profitable business,” he said. “We are investing in a circular economy, we are investing in the waste management, and that creates extremely positive social impact.”
Shari Friedman, Eurasia Group’s managing director for Climate and Sustainability, pointed out that companies can easily run afoul of local communities and the general public by failing to manage their water use responsibly.
“You're going to see some reputational risk in terms of water use because water is so integral to people,” she said. “If [a company is] taking it away or they're polluting a source, it's something that's incredibly visible.”
But while the private sector is making changes out of self-interest, governments are lagging well behind on the issue of water management.
James Dalton, director of the Global Water Programme at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said, “roundabout 90% of global water policy is out of date” and urged governments to dust off the old laws and have a look at what can be done to future-proof the system.
“Most countries are 20 years behind where they need to be now on reforming water policy,” he said. “We need to be looking at water policy now for 20 years ahead so we can build the trajectories. That means that we're effectively 40 years behind.”
But Tanvi Nagpal of Tetra Tech says there’s a special opportunity in the US to correct historic policy errors thanks to the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, which has set aside money to replace dangerous lead pipes and update plumbing infrastructure.
“40% of all of the investment is going into disadvantaged communities,” she said. “These are communities that have faced water shortages or no sewage treatment or terrible quality water for a generation, and we can no longer ignore them.”
Watch the full discussion above, and don’t forget to subscribe to GZERO Daily to get the heads up about future conversations right in your inbox.
Watch: “Anatomy of a Fall.” This year’s Palme d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival, “Anatomy of a Fall” is a courtroom drama that centers on a fatal fall under mysterious circumstances as well as the fall of a complex relationship. It’s a tautly paced, smartly acted drama that has mesmerized audiences by refusing to obey film convention. – Willis
Listen: “King Yellowman.” This iconic 1984 album from pioneering Jamaican DJ Yellowman layers his catchy, clever lyricism over tracks built out of an encyclopedic knowledge of classic reggae, calypso, and skiffle to produce a contagiously energetic record. Skip the Bluetooth headphones and play this one on the hi-fi for the best experience. – MattWatch: “Napoleon.” The reviews are mixed, and it’s being criticized for its lack of historical accuracy, but Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” is a captivating look at one of the most iconic leaders in history. Ignore the critics and check out this quirky, surprisingly comical piece of historical fiction starring Joaquin Phoenix. The battle scenes are epic, and it’s worth seeing in theaters. – John
WATCH THE REPLAY: By 2025, water scarcity is expected to affect around two-thirds of the world's population, and a similar proportion of companies will encounter significant water-related risks throughout their operations. Adding to the challenge, existing policy measures fall short of addressing this issue adequately. Resolving this crisis demands increased cooperation between public and private entities.
Join GZERO Media live today at 8 am ET as we delve into practical approaches spanning various regions and industries to address water scarcity globally.
Franck Gbaguidi, Director for Climate and Sustainability at Eurasia Group will moderate the livestream conversation, sponsored by Suntory, with:
- James Dalton, Director, Global Water Programme, IUCN
- Shari Friedman, Managing Director for Climate and Sustainability, Eurasia Group
- Manoj Jain, Investment Director, Unison Capital
- Shigeaki Kazama, Executive Officer and Division Deputy COO, Sustainability Management Division, Suntory Holdings
- Alzbeta Klein, CEO, International Fertilizer Association
- Mike Nemeth, Senior Advisor, Agricultural and Environmental Sustainability, Nutrien
- Tanvi Nagpal, Senior Technical Research Advisor, URBAN WASH Program, Tetra Tech
- Brian Richter, President, Sustainable Waters
Watch at gzeromedia.com/sustainability
High and Dry: Tackling Global Water Stress
Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | 8 am ET | 2 pm CET | 10 pm JST
Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, DC, shares his perspective on US politics.
What are three things that lawmakers have to be grateful for this Thanksgiving?
Well, the first is that they get to go home. Lawmakers reached a short-term deal to fund the government until January 19th, which means that they won't be around Washington, DC, beating each other up over levels of funding. That can all wait until 2024. They can go home and enjoy the holidays with their families and not pass much other legislation this year.
The second is that so far, the Inflation Reduction Act seems to be working to spur manufacturing in the United States. There are 22 new battery plants currently under construction. There's record investment in electronics manufacturing, and a number of European companies have announced their intention to expand green energy projects in the United States and not because of these subsidies. Now, of course, the real question about the success of the program is going to come when the subsidies stop, and you can judge how well the US has done in spurring this manufacturing in the US. But for now, Democrats are happy because it looks like the IRA is working. Republicans like the jobs, even though they didn't vote for the bill.
The third thing that both parties have to be grateful for is that there are no competitive primaries, which means that there's no choosing sides. There's no traipsing through the snowy fields of Iowa to campaign for one guy or another. Donald Trump is almost certain to win the Republican nomination, and Joe Biden faces no real challengers. So, both parties can marshal all their resources for the general election in 2024. And neither party is likely to go through a particularly divisive primary in the first half of the year.