River of War, River of Life: The Fate of the Nile

Watch the short documentary, River of War, River of Life: The Fate of the Nile below

Why the International World Water Day is Focusing on Transboundary Waters

The International World Water Day occurs every year on March 22 in order to focus attention on the importance of freshwater. In 1992, the UN Conference and Development (UNCED) recommended creating an international day to celebrate freshwater. In 1993 the first International World Water Day was created. The theme this year is Shared Water, Shared Opportunities, with the focus on transboundary waters.

There are 263 transboundary lake and river basins that cover half of the Earth’s land surface, and 60 percent of them supply global freshwater. About 40 percent of the world’s population lives in river and lake basins that extend across two or more countries, and 90 percent lives in countries that share basins. Two million people depend on the groundwater that comes from about 300 transboundary aquifer systems.

Climate change increases the risk of inland flash floods, coastal floods, and droughts. As a result, climate change will put pressure on transboundary water resources. According to the UN whitepaperTransboundary Water: Sharing Benefits, Sharing Responsibilities, “The necessity to adapt to climate change, however, will also offer new opportunities for cooperation in developing adaptation strategies.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) believes that climate change will have a “complex set of impacts” on the world’s water resources. A study on transboundary water resources and climate change by the Henry L. Stimson Center points out that melting mountain glaciers will disrupt upstream sources, “upsetting the timing and quantity of downstream flows.” This will cause “chronic pressures” for countries that share river resources because there will be less freshwater available, plus flooding or drought. “Both types of threats can impair food production, endanger public health, stress established settlement patterns, and jeopardize livelihoods and social well-being.”

Joint bodies with enforcement capacity are needed to ensure that countries who share water resources cooperate together in dealing with the impact of climate change. Of the 263 river basins in the world, 158 do not have a cooperative management framework, according to the UN  whitepaper. The whitepaper suggests three things the joint bodies would need to do: coordinate and advise, develop and implement policy, and settle disputes. The joint bodies would need to establish “institutional and administrative structures.” 

The Most Effective Way to Reduce Emissions

The recently released report, Consensus Recommendations for Future Federal Climate Legislation in 2009 published by various environmental and business organizations, states that energy efficiency is the must effective way to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Energy efficiency improvements, as experience in many states indicates, cost an average three center per lifetime kilowatt-hour saved compared to seven to thirteen cents per kilowatt-hour for conventional energy.

The power sector generates the largest amount of GHG emissions in the U.S., 37 percent. Carbon emissions from the power sector are greater than GHG emissions of all other countries but China. A report titled Carbon Caps and Efficiency Resources by Richard Cowart calls energy efficiency the "low-cost equivalent of a carbon scrubber for the electric power sector" and the key resource to create a "low-carbon power sector."

Polices are needed to "realize the full potential of energy efficiency" according to a reportA Call for Action by the U.S. Climate Action Partner. The report recommends climate legislation to create federal and state policies that "align financial and regulatory incentives with utilities' business interests."  The report also recommends that stronger energy efficiency codes and standards, plus incentives and tax reform measures by enacted. 

Why Samso is the Greenest Island

In 1997, the Danish Energy Agency sponsored a contest in Denmark to choose an off-shore island with the best plan to run 100 percent on renewable energy in a ten-year period. The 40 square-mile island of Samso, population 4,000, was chosen. The islanders raised 80 percent of the money to fund the venture from local investors, and relied on the government for laws and regulations.

Today the islanders use wind turbines for energy, and for heat they burn straw which creates very hot water that is then pumped underground to homes. The island's total energy needs are met 100 percent from renewables. Samso is estimated to have reduced its emissions for carbon dioxide by 142 percent, sulfur dioxide by 71 percent, and nitrous oxide by 41 percent. The island transfers its extra kilowatt hours of wind energy to the country's main power grid. 

The islanders have experienced an overall improvement in their quality of life as a result of the project. Studies show that the cost of heating is 20 percent cheaper than buying heating oil. The renewable energy projects created new markets which in turn created new jobs. 

Transportation is still largely fossil-fuel based. However, the islanders are involved in two different projects to address the problem: using canola oil as biofuel for tractors and ferry boats, and developing a hydrogen plant to power other vehicles on the island. 

Green Hotels Have Competitive Advantage

The U.S. 2009 Lodging Report, published by Ernst & Young, LLP calls green hotels a global "niche trend" within the hotel industry whose growth is fueled by several factors: governments with requirements to build greener, investors, and hotel companies.

The report stated that as as consumers demand hotels become greener, and energy efficiency "becomes the norm," hotels that are able to successfully "integrate environmentally friendly practices across all their business activities" will have the "potential to achieve an even greater competitive advantage.”

Hotels who put “an emphasis on green principles in activities related to both development and operations” will be better able to market their brands, according to Michael Fishbin, national director of Hospitality Services for Ernst & Young.

At present there are not standards for green hotels, but the U.S. Green Building Council and American Hotel and Lodging Association are scheduled to release a certification process for hotel projects late this year.