Just when an anti-biofuels advocate writes that biofuel production might put stress on water resources (previous post), a new report from the Christian development agency Tearfund indicates that by 2050 millions may face water scarcity and drought because of climate change. In this context, one must now say: not investing in biofuels might result in an unprecedented water crisis affecting millions.
It is easy to make the case for biofuels with this in mind:
- climate change must be tackled now, or we are getting beyond a 'tipping point' after which mitigating global warming becomes much more difficult and certain effects will become irreversible, and disastrous (Blair at the EU energy summit held today in Lahti repeated the doomsday message once again: "act now or the world faces climate catastrophe")
- of all greenhouse gas emitting sectors, the transport sector by far contributes most to CO2 emissions
- of all the renewable and carbon-reducing technologies only biofuels represent an immediate, cost-effective and infrastructurally realistic substitute to fossil transport fuels (wind, solar and nuclear do not deliver a high energy density liquid fuel suitable for transport); only biofuels produced in the South from high-yielding crops that do not destroy rainforests, have high CO2 reduction balances (such as cassava, sugar cane, jatropha, sweet potato, sorghum...)
- if we don't fight climate change now, millions will face water scarcity and drought
- conclusion: we must invest in biofuels in the South now, to prevent a global water crisis of unprecedented proportions
Citing research by the Oxford academic Norman Myers, Tearfund suggests there will be as many as 200 million climate refugees by 2050:
ethanol :: biodiesel :: bioenergy :: biofuels :: energy :: sustainability :: climate change :: CO2 :: transport fuels :: drought :: water scarcity ::
Areas where people are already on the move to avoid climate excesses include, the report says:
* Brazil, where one in five people born in the arid northeast region relocates to avoid drought
* China, where three provinces are seeing the spread of the Gobi desert
* Nigeria, where about 2,000 sq km is becoming desert each year
Attributing the movement of people to climate impacts is, however, a difficult issue, with many other factors including economic opportunity behind decisions to relocate.
One of Britain's leading climate scientists, Sir John Houghton, said the severity of climate change was getting through to world leaders "at a level of rhetoric", but not yet at a level of action.
"There were promises made at the G8 summit and at the last UN meeting in Montreal about money for adaptation," he told the BBC News website, "but I understand that very little of that has come through."
Sir John, who contributed a foreword to the Tearfund report, said water shortages would be the biggest climate threat to developing countries.
"It's the extremes of water which are going to provide the biggest threat to the developing world from climate change," he said.
"Without being able to be too specific about exactly where, droughts will tend to be longer, and that's very bad news. Extreme droughts currently cover about 2% of the world's land area, and that is going to spread to about 10% by 2050."
Overall, he said, climate models show a drying out of sub-Saharan Africa, while some other areas of the world will see more severe flooding.
Sir John is a former head of the UK Meteorological Office, former chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, and co-chaired one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working groups.
He is now chairman of the John Ray Initiative, whose mission is to "connect environment, science and Christianity".
The positive side of the Tearfund report is that simple measures to "climate-proof" water problems, both drought and flood, have proven to be very effective in some areas.
In Niger, the charity says that building low, stone dykes across contours has helped prevent runoff and get more water into the soil; while in Bihar, northern India, embankments have been built to connect villages during floods, with culverts allowing drainage.
BBC: Climate water threat to millions - Oct 20, 2006
Tearfund: Climate change will create millions more refugees - Oct. 20, 2006
Tearfund full report: Feeling the Heat [*.pdf]