In this blog I thought would write a bit more about the background of why I came to choose the CDP water team for my Charity Insights internship and how CDP communicates its work, as I think this is one of the most vital elements to its output and an area I imagine a lot of people could be interested in working in.
So first off, why do I think water is so important?
This year, the World Economic Forum listed water crises as the biggest Global Risk in terms of impact, based on a survey of nearly 900 global leaders in business, academia, and government. Future water issues are seen to have a more significant potential impact than failure of climate change adaptation, economic crises, weapons of mass destruction and infectious disease. See this article for further on the results of the WEF report. 10 years ago, water risks barely registered on the WEF risk report, but over the last few years, has unfortunately steadily climbed to the top as awareness has increased.
So what’s going on with water? I think the problem is perception and awareness. It appears that a lot of people and companies perceive water as an unlimited resource and/or are unaware of how much water is used and embedded in everyday processes and products. But fortunately that perception is changing and awareness is growing. I was definitely unaware until recently and still am learning all the time about our relationship with water and how important it is. It might seem obvious that water is essential to live, but I was really clueless about the wider facts and want to try and express some of them here.
The truth is freshwater is a finite resource, and unfortunately as with a lot of other resources, human activity is depleting the supply faster than it can be replenished, with water reserves in 21 out of 37 of the largest underground global aquifers decreasing since 2003. Industry and agriculture has also been responsible for polluting the water supply to the point where it is no longer fit for human consumption, as in China where almost 1/3 of surface water and over 2/3 of underground supplies are unsuitable for humans. Finally I want to note that water is also often a cross-border issue. For example the building of Dams across the Euphrates river in southern Turkey is leading to increased water scarcity and raising tensions in neighbouring Iraq, who heavily rely on the water from the Euphrates flowing across the border. It is conflicts like this that lead to a lot of diplomats, writers, politicians and economists predicting that wars in this century to be fought over the precious resource of water, not for oil or conquest.
This does not look encouraging when combined with the effects of Climate Change that are increasing the frequency and severity of droughts and so I think it is essential to act. That’s why it’s been so exciting seeing the inner workings of CDP, where everyone is focused on getting companies to act in the best interests of the people and the results are definitely encouraging.
A big part of the work done at CDP is communications or ‘comms’. The comms team works on ways to put across the work done at CDP to the media, the public, investors and companies. The team will help shape the annual reports CDP writes, as well as produce press releases and encourage media uptake of the stories that come out of the reports, showing where and how companies are responding (or not) to the issues of water, climate change and deforestation. CDP deals with a huge amount of data so delivering these messages in a concise yet meaningful way requires ingenuity to attract attention and generate impetus to make other companies act. In that vein, the role of the investor team at CDP is to reach out to investors who have significant stakes in these companies, and try and get them on board with CDP, to further encourage companies to shift attitudes and take actions against the dangers faced.
I would recommend looking the CDP website for some really interesting information about company commitments in the run up to the Paris climate change conference in December; data and graphics, visiting the twitter to see some of the output of the comms team and links to other articles, as well as the reports.
And now a final thought about how much water is ’embedded’ (used in the production of) our everyday products (see this link from national geographic for more). I’d just like to highlight the massive impact of meat production on the environment, with a kilo of beef requiring a staggering 15,000 litres of water to produce, 1kg of pork requiring 4,800 litres whilst crops like wheat require relatively little, at 1,100 litres of water per kilo. I think that’s worth thinking about that next time there’s a choice between weetabix and a bacon butty for breakfast.