Global climate change is exacerbating water scarcity problems around the world, yet few businesses and investors are paying attention to this growing financial threat, according to a report issued today by Ceres and the Pacific Institute.
Water is crucial for the global economy-driving every industry from agriculture to electric power to silicon chip manufacturing. Beverage, apparel and tourism also rely on supplies of clean, potable water to survive and grow.
Decreasing water availability, declining water quality and growing water demand are creating immense challenges to businesses and investors who have historically taken clean, reliable and inexpensive water for granted. These trends are causing decreases in companies' water allotments for manufacturing, shifts towards full-cost water pricing, more stringent water quality regulations and increased public scrutiny of corporate water practices.
The report concludes that climate change will exacerbate these growing water risks-especially as the world population grows by 50 million people every year. Already, China, India and the western U.S. are seeing growth limited by reduced water supplies from shrinking glaciers and melting snowcaps that sustain key rivers. Meanwhile, agricultural and power plant production have been cut back due to more frequent and more intense heat waves and droughts in large parts of Australia, California and the southeast U.S.
"The business community needs to wake up to the reality that water is becoming scarcer and will likely become even more so in many parts of the world due to climate change. It is critical that companies and investors boost their attention on this issue." said Mindy S. Lubber, president of Ceres, which published the report, Water Scarcity & Climate Change: Growing Risks for Businesses and Investors. "It is critical that companies and investors boost their attention on this issue." Ceres is a leading coalition of investors, environmental groups and other public interest groups working with companies to address sustainability challenges.
"This research sheds important light on the critical link between climate change and water issues. For businesses, addressing the risk factors of water scarcity and conflict is as urgent as addressing energy security and greenhouse gas emissions," said Jason Morrison, program director at the Pacific Institute and the report's lead author. "With impacts of climate change on water resources already affecting businesses, this report provides a first-of-its-kind list of key questions companies and investors should be asking - and responding to - in an integrated way." The Pacific Institute is a nonprofit research organization in Oakland, Calif., that is dedicated to protecting our natural world, encouraging sustainable development, and improving global security.
The report identifies water-related risks specific to eight key industries, including:
Electric Power: Drought-induced water shortages have already caused power plant shutdowns in Europe, Brazil and the southeast U.S. that led to price spikes and reduced economic growth. The power industry depends heavily on water and accounts for a staggering 39 percent of freshwater withdrawals in the U.S.
High-Tech: Eleven of the world's 14 largest semiconductor factories are in the Asia-Pacific region, where water scarcity risks are especially severe. IT firms require vast amounts of ultra clean water-Intel and Texas Instruments alone used 11 billion gallons to make silicon chips in 2007. A water-related shutdown at a fabrication facility operated by these firms could result in $100 million to $200 million in missed revenue during a quarter, or $0.02 or $0.04 per share.
Beverage: Coca-Cola and PepsiCo bottlers lost their operating licenses in parts of India due to water shortages and all major beverage firms are facing stiff public opposition to new bottling plants-and to buying bottled drinking water altogether. Nestlé Waters has been fighting for five years, for example, to build the country's largest bottling plant in McCloud, CA.