Tackling the global water crisis should be as critical as tackling climate change, researchers have said.
A report from the British Standards Institute (BSI) and non-governmental organisation Waterwise has brought together of several areas of research for a comprehensive analysis of the challenges nations face around water supplies.
The research, published on Wednesday to mark World Water Week, found the transition to circular water systems – which see wastewater reused to its full value – is as important as the transition to net zero.
It analysed soaring water scarcity levels across the world, noting that in several major economies like the US and China, usable freshwater is becoming increasingly scarce due to population growth and poor water quality management.
High levels of water consumption and scarcity can contribute to carbon emissions, destroy habitats and make ecosystems more vulnerable to climate change and drought.
The UK is among the worst 10 countries assessed when it comes to levels of freshwater resources and has one of the lowest levels of renewable water resources available per capita, the report says.
Britain was also found to have high levels of personal consumption and leakage coupled with relatively low water prices.
The research also identified low trust in the water infrastructure due to persistently high levels of sewage is endangering public co-operation in reducing use.
It comes as British water companies faced condemnations over the amount of raw sewage being dumped into UK waterways as well as accusations that too much money has gone to shareholders over the last few decades rather than investing enough in infrastructure.
United Utilities were also recently fined £800,000 after illegally abstracting 22 billion litres of water from the Fylde Aquifer in Lancashire, which is an important public water supply in the north west.
The BSI and Waterwise suggest the UK should roll out plans to reduce consumption and leakage, as well as trial pricing tariffs and introducing mandatory water efficiency labelling on products such as taps, showers and dishwashers – an idea the UK government has consulted on.
More widely, the organisations are calling for action to increase water circularity through global collaboration and innovation, arguing that certain measures can help to tackle scarcity and bring wider benefits like reducing drought and supporting climate goals.
They have set out several recommendations to help enable equitable global access to water, protect habitats and make the world more resilient to climate change and drought.
These include recognising water wastage as a serious challenge, making it easy for consumers to choose water-saving products and make sustainable choices, embracing innovation and better use of data, encouraging a water-saving culture and rolling out water recycling and reuse.
The report also calls for more collaboration across a range of players from government and regulators to the water industry and, ultimately, individuals water users.
Martin Townsend, director of the BSI Centre of Excellence for Sustainability, said: “Water is one our most fundamental, precious and undervalued resources – it is the blue thread that connects our world – and using it wisely can bring important benefits, helping us to maintain good health and a biodiverse natural environment, ensure we have sufficient food supplies and contributing to economic growth.
“But it is becoming increasingly clear that it is not sustainable for demand for water to continue to rise without action to ensure we are using it wisely and managing it efficiently.
“Many countries and individuals are already highly alert to the impact of water scarcity and the importance of conserving water, but now is the moment to come together as a global population and give this the same attention we give other environmental issues.
“If we partner we can turn ambition into action and accelerate progress towards a sustainable water future.”
Nicci Russell, chief executive of Waterwise, said: “We face huge challenges across the globe in ensuring water is available for people, organisations and the environment.
“It is increasingly clear that we can’t go on as we have been. It is just not sustainable.”