Valuing rivers is critical to global efforts to adapt to climate change

Posted on 12 July 2019

With cities and communities around the world reeling from extreme droughts, floods and worsening water shortages, WWF and Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) have published a report highlighting the central role of healthy rivers in adapting to climate change and building more resilient societies, economies and ecosystems.
Launched in New York ahead of the UN High Level Political Forum’s review of the Sustainable Development Goal on climate, Climate Change and Water: Why valuing rivers is critical to adaptation outlines how climate change will exacerbate the world’s current water crises. By altering river flows, climate change will impact access to water, food production, freshwater fisheries, energy generation and business operations – and potentially drive mass migration.

Climate change will also increase the pressure on freshwater species populations, which have already crashed by 83 per cent on average since 1970.

But the report shows how a collective commitment to better management of our freshwater resources, particularly by relying on nature-based solutions, can drive global efforts to tackle the most serious climate risks.

“Everyone knows that climate change will primarily impact our communities, cities and companies through water, yet safeguarding the health of the world’s rivers and wetlands – our freshwater life support systems – remains way down the list of global priorities,” said Stuart Orr, WWF Freshwater Practice Leader.

“We’re already seeing extreme droughts from Chile to Chennai and historic floods from the US Mid-west to Mozambique and worse is on the way. But we can become more resilient to climate impacts if governments and businesses urgently pursue water policies, practices and investments that recognize the full value of healthy freshwater systems,” added Orr.

The report details how climate change will impact freshwater ecosystems by changing the quantity, quality and timing of water supplies, including variations in rainfall patterns and snowpack melting.

Along with shifting seasons and temperatures, these changes will have a major impact on food security since rivers currently irrigate 190 million hectares – accounting for about a quarter of total global food production. Healthy freshwater ecosystems are also crucial for the survival of freshwater fisheries, which provide vital protein for hundreds of millions of vulnerable people.

Climate-related droughts, floods and changes to river flows will also affect electricity generation since reliable water supplies are needed to cool power stations and fuel existing hydropower plants.

“Transforming how the world values and manages our priceless freshwater resources is the most powerful way to adapt to the climate crisis – for people, business and nature,” said Andre Fourie, Global Director, Water Sustainability AB InBev. “At the heart of this must be broader and stronger partnerships – like that between AB InBev and WWF. We all need to work together to tackle the huge threats to our rivers and wetlands, which are the natural foundations of more resilient societies and economies.”

Innovative policies will be needed, including a global switch to more nature-based solutions, which must be at the heart of efforts to make infrastructure more resilient to climate impacts and reduce water risk.

New financial approaches – such as WWF’s Bankable Water Solutions initiative that has been supported by AB InBev – can help redirect financial flows into sustainable investments that not only improve water security and freshwater biodiversity, but also boost resilience to climate change – and provide an acceptable return for investors.

Specifically, the report recommends that political leaders promote nature-based solutions, invest in capacity to support adaptation, and implement policies that secure sufficient river flows for people and nature. Meanwhile, the private sector must take collective action to mitigate climate change and water-related risks.
“Investing in better management of rivers and wetlands is not only good for our freshwater resources but will also ensure that we become more resilient to climate impacts,” said Orr. “Climate is water: healthy freshwater systems will underpin more climate resilient communities, economies and ecosystems.”

This report is a part of AB InBev's larger partnership with WWF to champion global water stewardship.
report highlighting the central role of healthy rivers in adapting to climate change and building more resilient societies, economies and ecosystems.
Drinking from a water spout in Nepal
© Karine Aigner
Irrigation fields
© Bruno Pambour