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All people must have a safe climate for themselves and their children
by WMO, UNICEF, ILO, IFRC, agencies
7:33am 26th Feb, 2024
State of Global Climate report: Climate change indicators reach record levels: WMO
A new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) shows that records were once again broken, and in some cases smashed, for greenhouse gas levels, surface temperatures, ocean heat and acidification, sea level rise, Antarctic sea ice cover and glacier retreat.
Heatwaves, floods, droughts, wildfires and rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones caused misery and mayhem, upending every-day life for millions and inflicting many billions of dollars in economic losses, according to the WMO State of the Global Climate 2023 report.
The WMO report confirmed that 2023 was the warmest year on record, with the global average near-surface temperature at 1.45 °Celsius (with a margin of uncertainty of ± 0.12 °C) above the pre-industrial baseline. It was the warmest ten-year period on record.
“Sirens are blaring across all major indicators... Some records aren’t just chart-topping, they’re chart-busting. And changes are speeding-up.” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“Never have we been so close to the 1.5° C lower limit of the Paris Agreement on climate change.” said WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo. “The WMO community is sounding the Red Alert to the world.”
“Climate change is about much more than temperatures. What we witnessed in 2023, especially with the unprecedented ocean warmth, glacier retreat and Antarctic sea ice loss, is cause for particular concern,” she said.
On an average day in 2023, nearly one third of the global ocean was gripped by a marine heatwave, harming vital ecosystems and food systems. Towards the end of 2023, over 90% of the ocean had experienced heatwave conditions at some point during the year.
The global set of reference glaciers suffered the largest loss of ice on record (since 1950), driven by extreme melt in both western North America and Europe, according to preliminary data.
Antarctic sea ice extent was by far the lowest on record, with the maximum extent at the end of winter at 1 million km2 below the previous record year - equivalent to the size of France and Germany combined.
“The climate crisis is THE defining challenge that humanity faces and is closely intertwined with the inequality crisis – as witnessed by growing food insecurity and population displacement, and biodiversity loss” said Celeste Saulo.
The number of people who are acutely food insecure worldwide has more than doubled, from 149 million people before the COVID-19 pandemic to 333 million people in 2023 (in 78 monitored countries by the World Food Programme). Weather and climate extremes may not be the root cause, but they are aggravating factors, according to the report.
Weather hazards continued to trigger displacement in 2023, showing how climate shocks undermine resilience and create new protection risks among the most vulnerable populations.
There is, however, a glimmer of hope. Renewable energy generation, primarily driven by the dynamic forces of solar radiation, wind and the water cycle, has surged to the forefront of climate action for its potential to achieve decarbonization targets. In 2023, renewable capacity additions increased by almost 50% from 2022, for a total of 510 gigawatts (GW) – the highest rate observed in the past two decades.
Greenhouse gases
Observed concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – reached record levels in 2022. Real-time data from specific locations show a continued increase in 2023.
CO2 levels are 50 % higher than the pre-industrial era, trapping heat in the atmosphere. The long lifetime of CO2 means that temperatures will continue to rise for many years to come.
The global mean near-surface temperature in 2023 was 1.45°C above the pre-industrial 1850–1900 average. 2023 was the warmest year in the 174-year observational record.
Globally, every month from June to December was record warm for the respective month. September 2023 was particularly noteworthy, surpassing the previous global record for September by a wide margin (0.46 to 0.54 °C).
The long-term increase in global temperature is due to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The shift from La Nina to El Nino conditions in the middle of 2023 contributed to the rapid rise in temperature from 2022 to 2023.
Global average sea-surface temperatures were at a record high from April onwards, with the records in July, August and September broken by a particularly wide margin. Exceptional warmth was recorded in the eastern North Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, the North Pacific and large areas of the Southern Ocean, with widespread marine heatwaves.
Ocean heat content reached its highest level in 2023, according to a consolidated analysis of data. Warming rates show a particularly strong increase in the past two decades. It is expected that warming will continue – a change which is irreversible on scales of hundreds to thousands of years.
More frequent and intense marine heatwaves have profound negative repercussions for marine ecosystems and coral reefs.
Sea level rise
In 2023, global mean sea level reached a record high in the satellite record (since 1993), reflecting continued ocean warming (thermal expansion) as well as the melting of glaciers and ice sheets.
The rate of global mean sea level rise in the past ten years (2014–2023) is more than twice the rate of sea level rise in the first decade of the satellite record (1993–2002).
Extreme weather and climate events
Extreme weather and climate events had major socio-economic impacts on all inhabited continents. These included major floods, tropical cyclones, extreme heat and drought, and associated wildfires.
Flooding linked to extreme rainfall from Mediterranean Cyclone Daniel affected Greece, Bulgaria, Türkiye, and Libya with particularly heavy loss of life in Libya in September.
Tropical Cyclone Freddy in February and March was one of the world’s longest-lived tropical cyclones with major impacts on Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi.
Tropical Cyclone Mocha, in May, was one of the most intense cyclones ever observed in the Bay of Bengal and triggered 1.7 million displacements across the sub-region from Sri Lanka to Myanmar and through India and Bangladesh, and worsened acute food insecurity.
Hurricane Otis intensified to a maximum Category 5 system in a matter of hours – one of the most rapid intensification rates in the satellite era. It hit the Mexican coastal resort of Acapulco on 24 October, causing economic losses estimated at around US$15 billion, and killing at least 47 people.
Extreme heat affected many parts of the world. Some of the most significant were in southern Europe and North Africa, especially in the second half of July. Temperatures in Italy reached 48.2 °C, and record-high temperatures were reported in Tunis (Tunisia) 49.0 °C, Agadir (Morocco) 50.4 °C and Algiers (Algeria) 49.2 °C.
Canada’s wildfire season was the worst on record. The total area burned nationally for the year was 14.9 million hectares, more than seven times the long-term average. The fires also led to severe smoke pollution, particularly in the heavily populated areas of eastern Canada and the north-eastern United States.
The deadliest single wildfire of the year was in Hawaii, with at least 100 deaths reported – the deadliest wildfire in the USA for more than 100 years – and estimated economic losses of US$5.6 billion.
The Greater Horn of Africa region, which had been experiencing long-term drought, suffered substantial flooding in 2023, particularly later in the year. The flooding displaced 1.8 million people across Ethiopia, Burundi, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia and Kenya in addition to the 3 million people displaced internally or across borders by the five consecutive seasons of drought in Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Somalia.
Long-term drought persisted in north-western Africa and parts of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as parts of central and southwest Asia. It intensified in many parts of Central America and South America. In northern Argentina and Uruguay, rainfall from January to August was 20 to 50% below average, leading to crop losses and low water storage levels.
Weather and climate hazards exacerbated challenges with food security, population displacements and impacts on vulnerable populations. They continued to trigger new, prolonged, and secondary displacement and increased the vulnerability of many who were already uprooted by complex multi-causal situations of conflict and violence.
In southern Africa, for example, the passage of Cyclone Freddy in February 2023 affected Madagascar, Mozambique, southern Malawi, and Zimbabwe. Flooding submerged extensive agricultural areas and inflicted severe damage on crops and the economy.
Apr. 2024
United Nations resolutions that recognise the right to a clean and healthy environment must translate into concrete policies, says David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to a Clean, Healthy and Sustainable Environment:
“Today is Earth Day. This important day resonates even more deeply now that the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment has been recognised at the international level through UN resolutions. Earth day is also an international reminder of the urgent need for action to tackle the environmental crisis. This is why, we have chosen this day to publish a User Guide on the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
The UN resolutions on the right to a healthy environment have provided a much-need jolt of hope to a world struggling to cope with a devastating pandemic and a climate emergency. As soon as the resolutions were adopted, people began to ask: What next? How can we turn these words into tangible, concrete actions that will improve peoples’ lives and protect this uniquely beautiful and biodiverse planet?
The Guide seeks to answer these questions by looking into how the right can be used to prevent unsustainable and unjust laws, policies, projects and plans proposed by governments and businesses, and how it can be used to advance the transformative and systemic changes urgently needed to achieve a just and sustainable future.
The User Guide aims to provide useful and inspiring advice to civil society, social movements and communities on how to accelerate implementation of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
All people must have clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, healthy food to eat, a safe climate for themselves and their children and flourishing biodiversity for present and future generations. Transforming today’s economic systems based on exploiting people and nature, is the biggest challenge facing humanity.
But I believe that by working together we can achieve the just and sustainable future that so many people so deeply desire. This User Guide can be seen as a small step on that journey.
It is obvious that we have a long distance to travel and many mountains to climb before everyone, everywhere, fully enjoys their right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. But as I have said to countless amazing activists and environmental human rights defenders across the world I have met along this journey: We are strongest when we use our voices together in global harmony.”
Mar. 2024
Rethinking business and economic paradigms for people and planet to survive. (OHCHR)
There is an urgent need to rethink business and economic paradigms that have pushed humanity’s collective impacts beyond planetary limits, a UN expert said today.
“We are sabotaging Earth’s life support system, with profound consequences for human rights,” said David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment.
In his report to the Human Rights Council, he stated that the current practices of large businesses are threatening the ecological integrity of the planet and abusing human rights, including the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
“States have failed to adequately regulate, monitor, prevent and punish businesses for their abuses of the climate, environment and human rights,” Boyd said. “The situation is further exacerbated as States often encourage, enable and subsidise destructive business activities.”
The Special Rapporteur highlighted some of the most destructive impacts of business enterprises on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, which are also documented in a policy brief supplementing his report.
“All businesses are responsible for respecting human rights, including the right to a healthy environment,” he said.
The expert stressed that States have a duty to protect human rights from actual and potential harm that businesses may cause, and an obligation to hold businesses accountable.
“The recent recognition of the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment has game-changing potential if States and businesses comply with their obligations and responsibilities,” he said.
Boyd made recommendations on how to fulfil this right and achieve ecological sustainability. He called for shifting to holistic alternatives to GDP for measuring progress, human rights due diligence legislation, rights-based climate and environmental laws, making polluters pay, and new business paradigms focused on society benefits instead of shareholder profits.
“In the big picture, humanity needs to shrink its collective ecological footprint, yet billions of people in the global South need to expand their energy and material use to achieve a comfortable standard of living and fully enjoy their human rights,” the Special Rapporteur said.
“Society must confront this paradox. Wealthy States must take the lead in reducing their footprints and financing sustainable and equitable growth in the global South.”
“Paradoxically, businesses have a critical role in supporting society’s quest for a just and sustainable future. Therefore, we need to promote good practices and require all businesses to shift to a paradigm that puts people and the planet before profit,” the expert said.
The urgent need for a child-centred Loss and Damage Fund, report from UNICEF, Save the Children, Plan, agencies
The world’s most marginalised children are already suffering the unavoidable impacts of climate change – death, displacement, malnutrition, the loss of education, and the destruction of traditional ways of life. These consequences are collectively known as climate-related loss and damage.
Since children have their whole lives ahead of them, such losses or damages suffered at an early age can lead to a lifetime of lost opportunity and can even affect future generations. That makes loss and damage related to climate change one of the greatest intergenerational injustices facing children today, threatening the rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – such as the rights to survive and thrive, to protection, to clean water and food, to education and health, and to cultural heritage and indigenous knowledge.
Children have contributed the least to the climate crisis, yet they are suffering from its impacts more acutely than any previous generation.
The world has looked to climate finance to compensate those who have suffered the most due to climate change. Unfortunately, children’s unique needs and concerns have been largely overlooked in climate finance debates, a trend also reflected in climate finance allocations.
In 2022, nations agreed to set up a dedicated Loss and Damage Fund (L&D Fund), which is not only a significant milestone in climate negotiations, but also a chance to learn from past experiences of financing climate action. In fact, it is an opportunity to deliver climate justice for children on the frontline of the climate crisis.
Children’s first-hand accounts corroborate that climate-related loss and damage is part of their everyday realities. In a new report, Loss and Damage Finance for Children, 55 children, aged between 11 and 18, from diverse geographies share their experiences of loss and damage and recount memories of missing out on schooling, the loss or damage to their family home or livelihood, and even the loss of friends and family.
The children who shared with us their experiences unanimously demanded a seat at the table where discussions and decisions about loss and damage finance allocations take place. Their experiences and words make it clear that putting children’s rights at the heart of loss and damage finance is a matter of climate justice.
While the COP28 decision to launch the new L&D Fund recognizes youth as key stakeholders to participate in and shape the design, development and implementation of activities financed by the Fund, it only mentions children twice. To date, less than 2.4 per cent of climate finance has gone towards projects incorporating activities responsive to children’s needs.
At the same time, the way climate finance works now is pushing the countries most affected by the climate crisis into a debt crisis. When countries vulnerable to climate change are locked into a vicious cycle of indebtedness, with debt accumulating in tandem with accelerating losses and damages, compromises in public spending on essential services like education and healthcare often become inevitable. This has dire implications for children’s well-being and development.
It is important that the new L&D Fund, and loss and damage finance more broadly, break away from existing climate finance approaches.
The L&D Fund is a chance to ensure that present and future generations of children can thrive and fully exercise their rights. But this requires:
Recognizing children’s unique needs and vulnerabilities; facilitating their participation in decisions about the allocation and use of funding; ensuring the equitable distribution of loss and damage finance; and restoring children’s dignity when losses and damages are unavoidable.
Above all, it requires funding – sufficient, equitable, accessible and sustainable resources for meaningfully addressing the losses and damages suffered by children and their families.
It is crucial then that children’s rights are elevated, and their voices are amplified in discussions about implementing the L&D Fund as well as in setting the new global goal on climate finance. It is essential that this goal – called the New Common Quantified Goal – not only recognizes loss and damage as a critical pillar of climate finance, but that it is informed by the needs of climate-vulnerable children. We must not miss this opportunity to deliver climate justice for children.
* Cristina Coloon is Policy Specialist, UNICEF Innocenti; Lucy Szaboova is Climate Change and Environment Research Fellow, University of Exeter.
# Read the report Loss and Damage Finance for Children by UNICEF, Save the Children, Plan International, the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition (LDYC).
25 April 2024
Extreme heat has forced the closure of all schools in Bangladesh this week, impacting 33 million children, as temperatures soared to 42°C (108 F), 16 degrees more than the annual average, Save the Children said.
This is the second consecutive year that Bangladesh has been forced to close schools and comes just weeks after heat-induced school closures in both the Philippines and South Sudan. This shows how children’s rights are increasingly under threat from the intensifying impacts of the climate crisis, Save the Children said.
Bangladesh is one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis, with the Global Climate Risk Index classifying the low-lying country as the seventh most extreme disaster risk-prone country in the world in 2021. Tropical cyclones, floods and coastal erosion are common, and last year, Bangladesh experienced its worst-ever dengue outbreak which killed more than 1,000 people. Experts blamed the outbreak on the climate crisis and El Nino-driven weather patterns which created an extraordinarily wet monsoon season.
Like in many parts of the world, rising temperatures are also causing extreme heatwaves and drought in the country, with the government closing primary and secondary schools in June last year due to heat. A total of 33 million of Bangladesh’s 54 million children are enrolled in school.
More than 1 billion children, about half the world’s 2.4 billion children, live in countries highly susceptible to - and in many cases already experiencing – the effects of climate change. Children affected by poverty and inequality are even more vulnerable, with Save the Children research showing that one third of the world’s child population live with the dual impacts of poverty and high climate risk.
The high temperatures have prompted Bangladesh’s health ministry to issue guidelines to help people in the world’s eighth most populated country to cope and avoid heat stroke. They include drinking 2.5 – 3 litres of water a day and to rest in shaded areas.
Shumon Sengupta, Country Director Bangladesh, Save the Children International, said:
“Extreme heat jeopardises children’s physical and mental health – and it also has a significant impact on education. Even when classrooms are still open, children struggle to concentrate – US-based research suggests that each degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature throughout a school year reduces the amount learned by 1%.
“Children in Bangladesh are among the poorest in the world, and heat-related school closures should ring alarm bells for us all. Leaders need to act now to urgently reduce warming temperatures, as well as factoring children – particularly those affected by poverty, inequality and discrimination - into decision making and climate finance.”
Last year, 2023, was the planet’s hottest year since records began in 1850 and saw global temperatures rise 1.18°C (2.12°F) above the 20th-century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F).
Climate change creates serious health hazards for 70 per cent of the world’s workers. (ILO)
A “staggering” number of workers, amounting to more than 70 per cent of the global workforce, are likely to be exposed to climate-change-related health hazards, and existing occupational safety and health (OSH) protections are struggling to keep up with the resulting risks, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The report, Ensuring safety and health at work in a changing climate , says that climate change is already having a serious impact on the safety and health of workers in all regions of the world. The ILO estimates that more than 2.4 billion workers (out of a global workforce of 3.4 billion) are likely to be exposed to excessive heat at some point during their work, according to the most recent figures available (2020).
When calculated as a share of the global workforce, the proportion has increased from 65.5 per cent to 70.9 per cent since 2000.
In addition, the report estimates that 18,970 lives and 2.09 million disability-adjusted life years are lost annually due to the 22.87 million occupational injuries, which are attributable to excessive heat.
This is not to mention the 26.2 million people worldwide living with chronic kidney disease linked to workplace heat stress (2020 figures).
The impact of climate change on workers goes well beyond exposure to excessive heat, the report says, creating a “cocktail of hazards”, which result in a range of dangerous health conditions.
The report notes that numerous health conditions in workers have been linked to climate change, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory illnesses, kidney disfunction and mental health conditions. The impact includes:
1.6 billion workers exposed to UV radiation, with more than 18,960 work-related deaths annually from nonmelanoma skin cancer. 1.6 billion likely to be exposed to workplace air pollution, resulting in up to 860,000 work-related deaths among outdoor workers annually.
Over 870 million workers in agriculture, likely to be exposed to pesticides, with more than 300,000 deaths attributed to pesticide poisoning annually. 15,000 work-related deaths every year due to exposure to parasitic and vector-borne diseases.
“It’s clear that climate change is already creating significant additional health hazards for workers,” said Manal Azzi, Occupational health and safety lead at the ILO. “It is essential that we heed these warnings.
Occupational safety and health considerations must be become part of our climate change responses – both policies and actions. Working in safe and healthy environments is recognized as one of the ILO’s fundamental principles and rights at work. We must deliver on that commitment in relation to climate change, just as in every other aspect of work.”
Mar. 2024
Water can create peace or spark conflict. When water is scarce or polluted, or when people have unequal, or no access, tensions can rise between communities and countries.
More than 3 billion people worldwide depend on water that crosses national borders. Yet, only 24 countries have cooperation agreements for all their shared water.
As climate change impacts increase, and populations grow, there is an urgent need, within and between countries, to unite around protecting and conserving our most precious resource.
Public health and prosperity, food and energy systems, economic productivity and environmental integrity all rely on a well-functioning and equitably managed water cycle.
The theme of World Water Day 2024 is ‘Water for Peace’. When we cooperate on water, we create a positive ripple effect – fostering harmony, generating prosperity and building resilience to shared challenges.
We must act upon the realization that water is not only a resource to be used and competed over – it is a human right, intrinsic to every aspect of life. This World Water Day, we all need to unite around water and use water for peace, laying the foundations of a more stable and prosperous tomorrow.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres message for World Water Day:
Action for water is action for peace. And today it is needed more than ever. Our world is in turbulent waters. Conflicts are raging, inequality is rife, pollution and biodiversity loss are rampant, and, as humanity continues to burn fossil fuels, the climate crisis is accelerating with a deadly force – further threatening peace.
Our planet is heating up – seas are rising, rains patterns are changing, and river flows are shrinking. That is resulting in droughts in some regions, and floods and coastal erosion in others. Meanwhile, pollution and overconsumption are imperiling the availability of fresh, clean, accessible water on which all life depends.
Dwindling supplies can increase competition and inflame tensions between people, communities, and countries. That is increasing the risk of conflict.
Water for peace is the theme of this year’s World Water Day. Achieving it relies on far greater cooperation. Today, 153 countries share water resources. Yet only twenty-four have reported cooperation agreements for all their shared water. We must accelerate efforts to work together across borders, and I urge all countries to join and implement the United Nations Water Convention – which promotes managing shared water resources sustainably.
Cooperating to safeguard water can power and sustain peace. Water stewardship can strengthen multilateralism and ties between communities, and build resilience to climate disasters.
It can also drive progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals – which are the foundation of peaceful societies – including by improving health, reducing poverty and inequality, and boosting food and water security. Let’s commit to work together, to make water a force for cooperation, harmony and stability, and so help to create a world of peace and prosperity for all.
Alvaro Lario, UN-Water Chair:
Today, we face a crisis that threatens global wellbeing and stability: 2.2 billion people still live without access to safe water and even more – 3.5 billion people – without safe toilets.
This World Water Day, we must unite around water to make it a tool for peace and a catalyst for progress.
We have just six years left to meet Sustainable Development Goal 6 – water and sanitation for all by 2030. We are dramatically off track.
We must urgently fix the water cycle. Our health and livelihoods, our food and energy, and the very ecosystem we exist within, all depend on it.
Our human rights to water and sanitation are the first line of defence against disease, disaster and destitution. As climate change impacts and populations grow, our cooperation on water will make or break us.
By working together on water, across borders and sectors, we can provide a model for solving all our shared challenges. Water has sustained us since the dawn of life. Now, it can lead us out of crisis. Let us work together to seize the opportunity. We have no time to lose.
Mar. 2024
Water for Peace. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
Water is a basic human right and an essential element in maintaining our health and well-being. Still, hundreds of millions of people around the world lack access to safe water. On World Water Day, we join the call of those around the world working to ensure that all people have easy access to this essential ingredient to a safe, healthy and peaceful life.
Calamities such as earthquakes, floods, drought, conflict — even extreme cold weather — often put water out of reach for people, and the livestock and crops they rely on to survive.
Meanwhile, lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation too often results in the spread of infectious diseases such as cholera, diarrhea and E. Coli, among many others.
Water scarcity and insecurity, meanwhile, is increasing worldwide, and so is the recognition of its role as a potential multiplier of instability and conflict.
These are some of the reasons the theme of World Water Day 2024 is ‘Water for Peace.’ Access to wafe water is a game changer for community health, resilience and prosperity. It opens the door to healthier people, more secure food sources and more stable communities. We invite you to join us in working to ensure all people around the world have access to safe water and a healthy, peaceful future.
The IFRC works to ensure that people around the world have equitable, sustainable and affordable access to water, sanitation and hygiene services and knowledge (WASH).
We do so by supporting our 191 National Societies to deliver effective emergency, recovery and long-term WASH programmes. Collectively, we reach over 100 million people with quality water, sanitation and hygiene activities every year.
Mar. 2024
Global water crisis looms yet only one in four of the biggest food and agriculture corporations say they’re reducing water use and pollution. (Oxfam International)
Only 28 percent of the world’s most influential food and agriculture corporations report they are reducing their water withdrawals and just 23 percent say they are taking action to reduce water pollution. Oxfam’s new analysis of 350 corporations using World Benchmarking Alliance data comes ahead of World Water Day (March 22).
The UN, which last year convened the first major conference on water in over 45 years, estimates that 2 billion people do not have safe drinking water, and up to 3 billion people experience water shortages for at least one month each year.
The 350 corporations analyzed, including Carrefour and Avril Group, together account for more than half of the world’s food and agriculture revenue. 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawals are used for agriculture, which is by far the largest water-using sector worldwide. Industrial farming plays a major role in water pollution.
Oxfam’s analysis also found that only 108 of these 350 corporations are disclosing the proportion of withdrawals from water-stressed areas.
“When big corporations pollute or consume huge amounts of water, communities pay the price in empty wells, more costly water bills, and contaminated and undrinkable water sources. Less water means more hunger, more disease and more people forced to leave their homes,” said Oxfam France Executive Director Cecile Duflot.
“We clearly can’t rely on corporations’ goodwill to change their practices —governments must force them to clean up their act, and protect shared public goods over thirst for profit,” said Duflot.
Water and wealth are inextricably linked. Rich people have better access to safe public drinking water —and money to buy expensive private water— while people living in poverty, who often don’t have access to a government-backed water source, spend significant portions of their income to purchase water.
The fast-growing bottled water industry is an example of how corporate giants commodify and exploit water, intensifying inequality, pollution and harm. According to the UN, the multi-billion-dollar bottled water industry is undermining progress toward the key Sustainable Development Goal (SDG6) of providing universal access to safe drinking water.
For two months starting in May 2023, French authorities imposed water use restrictions on thousands of people living in the drought-hit department of Puy-de-Dome, including the commune of Volvic. The restrictions did not apply to Societe des Eaux de Volvic, a subsidiary of French multinational Danone, who during this time continued to extract groundwater to supply its Volvic bottling plant. Danone raked in €881 million in profits in 2023 and paid out €1,238 million to its shareholders.
Rises in global temperatures will further reduce water availability in many water-scarce countries, including across East Africa and the Middle East, because of the increased frequency of droughts, and changes in rainfall patterns and run-off.
Oxfam has seen first-hand how people are facing the daily challenge of accessing safe water sources, spending countless hours queuing or trekking long distances, and suffering the health impacts of using contaminated water.
For example in Renk, a transit camp in South Sudan, more than 300 people are now sharing a single water tap, increasing the risk of cholera and other diseases. Oxfam warned last year that up to 90 percent of water boreholes in parts of Somalia, Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia had entirely dried up.
Oxfam is calling on governments to:
Recognize water as a human right and a public good. Profits should not be the priority when it comes to providing water services to people. Hold corporations accountable for abusing and violating human and environmental rights and laws, including water pollution.
Invest in water security, subsidized public water provision, sustainable water management and climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. National planning and policy around WASH must commit to women’s leadership, participation, and decision-making at all stages.
* IPCC Sixth Assessment Report: Chapter 4: Water. (2022)
Increases in physical water scarcity are projected, with estimates between 800 million and 3 billion for 2°C global warming and up to approximately 4 billion for 4°C global warming. Projected increases in hydrological extremes pose increasing risks to societal systems globally, with a potential doubling of flood risk between 1.5°C and 3°C of warming and an estimated 120–400% increase in population at risk of river flooding at 2°C and 4°C, respectively. Also projected are increasing risks of fatalities and socioeconomic impacts. Similarly, a near doubling of drought duration and an increasing share of the population affected by various types, durations and severity levels of drought are projected. Increasing return periods of high-end hydrological extremes pose significant challenges to adaptation..
Globally, agriculture is the largest user of water. Risks to agricultural yields due to combined effects of water and temperature changes, for example, could be three times higher at 3°C compared to 2°C, with additional risks as a consequence of increasing climate extremes. In addition, climate-driven water scarcity and increasing crop water demands, including for irrigation, pose additional challenges for agricultural production in many regions.
Climate-induced changes in the global hydrological cycle are already impacting agriculture through floods, droughts and increased rainfall variability. Climate change will lead to populations becoming more vulnerable to floods and droughts due to an increase in the frequency, magnitude and total area affected by water-related disasters:

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