Water Can Help Fight Climate Change

Published on by Green Initiatives

Fighting climate change will open up vast opportunities for the economy in many areas. We need to embrace circular production systems and use water much more efficiently. As the global population grows, so does the demand for water, which depletes natural resources and damages the environment.

Water is our most precious resource – it must be used more responsibly. Society’s water needs must be balanced while ensuring the poorest people do not get left behind.

“Water can help fight climate change. There are sustainable, affordable and scalable water and sanitation solutions.”

  1. Wetlands soak up carbon dioxide from the air.
  2. Vegetation protects against flooding and erosion.
  3. Rainwater can be stored for dry periods.
  4. Wastewater can be reused.
  5. Climate-smart agriculture.

(Policy Brief on Climate Change and Water, 2019)

Here’s a deeper look into these solutions.


1. Improving carbon storage

Peatlands are wetlands with a thick water-logged soil layer made up of dead and decaying plant material. They cover about 3% of the world’s land surface but store at least twice as much carbon as all of Earth’s forests, nearly 550 billion tons. Mangrove soils can sequester up to three or four times more carbon than terrestrial soils. Protecting and expanding these types of environments can have a major impact on climate change.


Image credit: www.phys.org

Considering this, peatlands are one of the greatest allies and potentially one of the quickest wins in the fight against climate change. Peatlands emit CO2 when cleared and drained for agriculture and forestry. Over 5% of global CO2 emissions are caused by peatland degradation. Restoration of these areas can reduce emissions substantially.

2. Protecting natural buffers

Coastal mangroves and wetlands are effective and inexpensive natural barriers to flooding, extreme weather events and erosion.

Image credit: www.iucn.org

Mangrove forests are vital to shoreline communities as natural buffers against storm surges, an increasing threat in a changing global climate with rising sea levels. Mangroves are the only species of trees in the world that can tolerate salt water.  Their dense root systems inhibit the flow of tidal water and encourage the deposition of nutrient-rich sediments. But once lost, mangroves are very difficult to replant due to shifts in the very sediments the roots helped keep in place. In Thailand, Mexico and Indonesia, mangroves are often cut down to make room for temporary shrimp pens.

Image credit: www.newsfirst.lk

Mangroves can be up to 10 times more efficient than terrestrial ecosystems at absorbing and storing carbon long term, making them a critical solution in the fight against climate change.

3. Harvesting rainwater

Image credit: www.eco-business.com

Rainwater harvesting is one way we can utilize a natural source of water without impacting the environment in a negative way.  That is, it eliminates the need for energy intensive water pumps. Although this water catchment method has been around for hundreds of years, it is just recently started to regain interest in the world of conservation. It is particularly useful in regions with uneven rainfall distribution to build resilience to shocks and ensure supplies for dry periods.

From a conservation perspective, rainwater harvesting reduces the demand on the existing water supply, run-off, erosion, and possible contamination of surface water.

Image credit: Wikipedia

4. Reusing wastewater

Many parts of the world are subject to water stress. Social and health risks, falling agricultural yields, impact on industrial productivity, conflicts of use, fires, and desertification all present risks for these countries if they are unable to find the appropriate answers.

Image credit: www.waternewseurope.com

Reusing wastewater is an obvious solution in these regions.It is also less costly than producing desalinated water or transporting drinking water over long distances. In the era of climate change, dams and reservoirs are increasingly vulnerable to drought and evaporation, while the supply of, say, urban wastewater stays roughly constant. 

Image credit: www.undark.org

Unconventional water resources, such as regulated treated wastewater, can be used for irrigation and industrial and municipal purposes.Other methods, including capturing stormwater, and recharging aquifers also deliver water at prices that are lower than water delivered from dams.

5. Adopting climate-smart agriculture

Image credit: www.wbcsd.org

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support the development and ensure food security in a changing climate. CSA aims to tackle three main objectives:

  • sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes
  • adapting and building resilience to climate change; and 
  • reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions, where possible.

Practising conservation agriculture to improve soil organic matter (needed for the soil to retain water), reducing post-harvest losses and food waste, and transforming waste into a source of nutrients or biofuels/biogas can address both food security and climate change.

Find out more about ongoing projects and initiatives: 


Facts and Figures

  1. Today, 1 in 3 people – around 2.2 billion – live without safe drinking water (WHO/UNICEF, 2019).
  2. By 2050, up to 5.7 billion people could be living in areas where water is scarce for at least one month a year, creating unprecedented competition for water (UNESCO, 2018).
  3. Climate-resilient water supply and sanitation could save the lives of more than 360,000 infants every year (UN, 2018).
  4. If we limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, compared to 2°C, we could cut climate-induced water stress by up to 50% (UN-Water, 2019).
  5. Extreme weather – expected to increase in frequency and intensity because of climate change – has caused more than 90% of major disasters over the last decade (UNDRR, 2015).
  6. By 2040, global energy demand is projected to increase by over 25% and water demand is expected to increase by more than 50%, primarily from manufacturing, electricity generation and households (International Energy Agency & UNESCO, 2018).