A leak this week says that the second of three reports from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts some very unpleasant changes for a world in which global warming is proceeding at the fastest end of official predictions. If there is a mean global temperature rise of 2.5 degrees C (over the pre-industrialised period) the panel warns that, “climate change will reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources significantly in most dry subtropical regions’, exacerbating the competition for water,” according to a report in last Tuesday’s Independent (UK). The report also warns of flooding, reduced food security, increased disease and less economic growth.
The first remarkable thing about the story is that it appeared only in a small-circulation British daily and in a few derivative stories such as this one in the Sydney Morning Herald. This may be because the report has been leaked — at various stages — before or because it is due to be published officially before the end of the month. It may be because the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued its own report last week. More likely, though, it is because climate change has become such a non-story. Major US papers have abandoned or downgraded the environment beat while papers with deep journalistic resources such as The Hindu in India focus only on politicians’ ability to defend the national interest against calls for global agreements,
In the meantime, vast foundation-funded efforts roll, probably on doing important behind-the-scenes work but missing the news agenda entirely and thus cut off from public support. Look for example at the newsroom of the European Climate Foundation: six offices across Europe but four articles in the last twelve months. Or Climateworks in the US which last posted even a news release of its own more than 11 months ago,
Maybe it is conflict that will bring climate change back into the spotlight. Yesterday the BBC reported on the growing rancour between Ethiopia and Egypt over the former’s plans to dam the Blue Nile. Egypt sees the project as an existential threat. What the US and its allies will do is unclear: Ethiopia is one of the world’s least cuddly dictatorships but a firm friend in the fight against Islamic extremism in Somalia and one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Egypt is, of course, the biggest country in the region and the centre of a struggle between the Qatari-backed Muslim Brotherhood and a military régime funded by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE. The problem for the West is that all of the players are friends. Similar conflicts are brewing across the Middle East and South Asia, as Russia’s RT noted with some satisfaction — in most cases, the struggles will be between Western allies. A thoughtful piece from last year on Thomson-Reuters goes some way to outlining the crisis in Jordan, the one reliable, moderate and democratic state in the region. Water rights could be a make-or-break in John Kerry’s Israeli-Palestinian talks
It may be the growing importance of water wars in international affairs that pushed would-be President Hillary Clinton to highlight the issue in a Saturday address to college students. She might even see votes in it by 2016.
This 2008 map from the Food and Agriculture Organisation shows water scarcity, stress and vulnerability around the world. The in-between status of Northern Europe may be a surprise
The picture below is from the BBC dam story