What is driving change?

By Dr. Mark Fletcher

Global Water Business Leader, Arup

This was a question we posed at Arup a number of years ago which led to our global research initiative ‘Drivers of Change’1 . This initially focused on Water, Energy, Climate Change, Urbanisation, Demographics and Waste. This was subsequently developed to include Poverty, Food and Oceans. However you try and square it the water cycle is at the heart of change.

This was clearly apparent in December 2015 at CoP212 in Paris when we engaged in discussion about mitigation and adaptation to a changing climate. The #climateiswater! initiative championed by the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (of which Arup is a member) focused on putting water-related issues at the heart of the climate change discussions building on the work done in Lima at CoP20. The fact that the UNFCCC has concluded that ‘over 90% of climate change impacts will be felt through water’ reinforces the need for us to recognise this connection.

Indeed, the World Economic Forum4 has just identified ‘water crises’ as the main global risk of highest concern for the next 10 years. This is followed by ‘failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation’, ‘extreme weather events’ and ‘food crises’ – all integrally connected with water and the water cycle. In addition the OECD5 estimates that by 2050 water scarcity could be affecting approximately 4 billion people. It is clear that water is no longer moving up the agenda – it is the agenda for billions of people and very real.

Acknowledging the importance of water and the changes affecting our climate, there is also the fact that the world is rapidly urbanising and we have now passed the point in time where more people live in cities than in rural areas. It is therefore of highest priority to understand how resilient our cities are to flexing of the water cycle in terms of ‘too much water’eg flooding or ‘too little’ water eg water stress and drought as well as to shock change eg storms and incremental change eg sea level rise. In the next few months we will be sharing the outcomes of our water resilience workshops held in Sao Paulo and Manila in November 2015.

We have also looked at what the future of urban water may look like. Working with the Board of Sydney Water, our foresight and water advisory specialists have considered alternative futures where water and wastewater services may be provided by a single utility or as part of a multi-utility offering and through centralised or decentralised solutions. This is expanded in the thought-piece by Daniel Lambert. Given the WEF research our future-focus is very timely.

To conclude we have researched the latest Drivers of Change for Water and are using these to stimulate fresh and informed debate and discussion around the world. We are keen to share and always open to listen. We only have one planet and we have the opportunity to manage water much better going forward if we work together around the world and learn from each other. We want to be part of an increasing understanding of the role of the water cycle in people’s lives providing clear thinking and increasingly sustainable solutions.

1 ‘Drivers of Change’ copyright Arup

2 CoP 21 is the Conference of the Parties

3 UNFCCC is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

4 World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2016

5 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

Biography – Mark Fletcher

Mark is responsible for all water and flood risk related business activity across Arup and has advised at a regional, national and trans-national level. He has delivered keynote speeches at Stockholm World Water Week, International Water Week in Amsterdam and at WATEC in Israel. He was appointed by the RAEng as Visting Professor in Engineering Design for Sustainable Development until 2008. In 2014 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Bradford University for his work promoting sustainable water management.

Mark is on the Leadership Council of UK Water Partnership. He was also Project Director for the BCIA Award Winning Bradford City Park. He has been responsible for Amp Frameworks with UK water companies from Amp2-Amp6 as well as national frameworks with the Environment Agency. He is also a Board Director of the Water Industry Forum and is on the Policy and Group for the Alliance of Global Water Adaption (AGWA). AGWA includes US State Dept, Dutch Govt, World Bank, Rockefeller Foundation, UNFCCC and Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) amongst its members. He won the Engineering Council Natural Environment Award and the Leadership Award for Outstanding Contribution to Water Efficiency from the World Water Leadership Congress. He has presented to the senior executives across the Australian water sector on the issue of public and private governance around water and recently joined AGWA to present at COP 21 in Paris in support of the ‘Climate is Water’ initiative.