Ninth time lucky? Will businesses finally start responding to water risk?

Alexis Morgan, WWF Water Stewardship Lead

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has just released the 2019 iteration of its annual Global Risk Report, and once again, water crises feature in the top five most impactful risks facing our planet — for the ninth year in a row.

And that’s not all.

As we noted last year, the majority of the top five global risks in terms of impact and likelihood (7 of the 10) over the next decade can be viewed as manifestations of water risk. “Extreme Weather Events”? Too much water (floods), or too little water (droughts). “Natural Disasters”? Flooding is #1 on that list. “Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation”? The need to be better prepared to handle water challenges. As we say #ClimateIsWater.

What is perhaps most head-scratching is the overwhelming attention on climate mitigation, with little focus on the clear and present risks already manifesting through water. We need to face up to the fact that climate change is here, and its face is water.

WWF has long advocated that companies, cities and financial institutions engage water risk and that those facing such risks develop context-specific solutions and deploy them at scale.

2018 was a milestone year for us as we released the heavily upgraded version 5.0 of the Water Risk Filter. Two of the sections (Explore and Assess) went live towards the end of last year, and early next month will see the launch of the next section: Respond.

What is particularly exciting about this new section is that it will offer companies and financial institutions the ability to rapidly identify tailored, contextually-derived response actions, including an array of actions that can enhance climate resilience. The tool will offer up to 50 actions, spread across ten categories, with more than 100 more available offline with WWF. With a few clicks of a button, users can generate customized action plans for one or thousands of facilities to better equip them to deal with water-related risks.

What’s more, we are also moving forward to provide greater support to those working with the Task Force for Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and have developed new layers and shared socio-economic pathway-based scenarios informed by the Potsdam Institute for Climate and IIASA.

Lastly, if the journey begins with recognizing risk, and continues with a contextual response, then what follows next is the need for finance. If we are to scale solutions to tackle the urgent water-related risks that the World Economic Forum continues to flag, then we must begin to harness the Water Risk Filter not only to identify water risks but also to identify opportunities for investment and scaling up bankable water projects.

Other risks on the Forum list come and go, but water crises have remained rooted in the top five for nine years. And they will continue to feature high up the list until the world stops simply worrying about water risks and starts actually responding to the scale of the challenge.

© Global Warming Images / WWF