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2025 Ambition, UN Report Look to UK Brands, Nature-Based Solutions to Tackle Water Issues

Amidst a flurry of corporate activity around World Water Day (March 22), the growing issues of demand, availability and quality of water have been front-and-center this week. According to UN projections, global demand for fresh water will exceed supply by 40 percent in 2030. In its latest annual water report, the UN stressed the need for new green investments and measures to combat the challenges of a growing population and climate change.

“We need new solutions in managing water resources so as to meet emerging challenges to water security caused by population growth and climate change. If we do nothing, some five billion people will be living in areas with poor access to water by 2050,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “This Report proposes solutions that are based on nature to manage water better. This is a major task all of us need to accomplish together, responsibly so as to avoid water related conflicts.”

Major UK retailers, food and drink manufacturers and brands, businesses from the hospitality and food sector, and trade bodies plan to address these challenges through collective action projects and improving efficiencies within their own operations. Signatories of WRAP’s voluntary ten-year Courtauld Commitment 2025 have backed a new Water Ambition. These include top brands such as ABP Food Group, Bidfood, Coca-Cola GB, the Co-op, M&S, Nestlé, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

“In the UK, the supply chains that deliver more than half of our food are prone to disruptions like water scarcity. Eight of the top ten countries we import our food from are drought-prone, in fact,” said Peter Maddox, Director at WRAP.

“The Courtauld Commitment 2025 Water Ambition is a practical response to the growing problem of water stress. With WWF, The Rivers Trust and other leading water experts we’ve created a collaborative programme that works on a localised level, dealing directly at source with issues specific within each catchment area. Under the umbrella of the Water Ambition, we can assess how individual projects are making a collective difference, and help scale these up.”

The initial focus of collective action projects will be six areas in the UK that are currently suffering from water stress and are important for sourcing foods such as fresh produce, crops and dairy. The Water Ambition will support existing projects of The Rivers Trust and other partners by increasing industry participation, generating new partnerships, and more. WWF will help expand the work of the Water Ambition into international regions with high water risks such as the Western Cape in South Africa, southern Spain, and the Kenyan regions of Naivasha, Thika and Nairobi.

For areas such as these, the UN’s World Water Development Report 2018 recommends the use of nature-based solutions and assistance of traditional knowledge. While it touts its support for trendy concepts such as the circular economy and green economy, people and companies are encouraged to look beyond human-built solutions. Such concepts aim for restorative and regenerative solutions to increase resource productivity, reduce waste and avoid pollution, while generating social, environmental and economic co-benefits. Nature-based solutions, therefore, seem to be an obvious fit – yet make up less than 1 percent of total investment in water resources management infrastructure.

“For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey,’ infrastructure to improve water management. In so doing, it has often brushed aside traditional and Indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches. Three years into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it is time for us to re-examine nature-based solutions to help achieve water management objectives,” said Gilbert F. Houngbo, Chair of UN-Water and President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

The UN report includes a detailed analysis of the state of water resources and how nature-based solutions could enhance the management of demand, availability, quality, and extreme events. Several challenges and recommended steps for improving conditions for the uptake of such solutions are also explored. It is hoped that a blend of both green and grey investments can increase water efficiency in a cost-effective way.