3.2 Adjust pressures and footprints of human activities on water

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Priority for Action 3.2
“Adjust pressures and footprints of human activities on water”
Coordinator: United Nations Environment Programme
Core group members
Water Footprint Network
World Business Council on Sustainable Development
ISEAL Alliance
French Water Partnership

Today the competition for scarce water resources in many places is intense. Many river basins do not have enough water to meet all the demands. Furthermore, over the next few decades, as climate changes, population increases and per capita income increases, the demand for access to water resources will increase. However, most water resources experts admit that the water crisis is not caused by the physical water scarcity but it is mainly due to poor water management.

The key priority “Adjust pressures and footprints of human activities on water” analyses the human water use and identifies different targets and solutions to reduce the pressures from human activities on water resources. For this purpose innovative approaches are applied. The water footprint (indicator of water use that looks at both direct and indirect water consumption and pollution of a consumer or producer) together with the virtual water concept (the volume of water used in the production of a commodity, good or service) links a large range of sectors and actors, thus providing a potentially appropriate and transparent framework to support more optimal water management practices by informing production, consumption and trade decisions.

This triggers global and out of the box approaches, including involvement of stakeholders outside the water sector. Reducing the footprint of food on water goes for instance hand in hand with a reduction of the huge harvest and food losses in both developing and developed countries. The process will engage a broad range of practitioners, researchers, corporations, NGOs and policymakers to produce and synthesize knowledge and elaborate innovative methods and responses. There is no simple solution to improve water management and a broad range of options needs to be pursued simultaneously including:

  • Improvement of water footprint tools and databases.
  • Ensure the integration for the water footprint analysis into the sustainability and life cycle assessments.
  • Manage water footprints and reduce impacts on systems.
  • Reduce the water footprint of the food chain by reducing food waste/losses.
  • Awareness raising and capacity building on the need to reduce water footprint and associated pressures on water resources.
  • Develop water footprint impact mitigation and sustainable water management programmes in key industry sectors.
TARGET TSG Coordinator(s) Regional Links*
Target 1: By 2013, global high-resolution water footprint and water availability databases and maps are publicly available, as well as environmental flow requirements, water scarcity and water pollution maps at multiple scales including river basins Water Footprint Network
Target 2: By 2013, the water footprint impact and response strategies of a number of specific product categories as produced or consumed in a number of specific regions (in particular in water scarce areas) have been quantified and assessed United Nations Environment Programme/SETAC Life-Cycle Initiative Project on “Assessment of Freshwater Use within LCA”
Target 3: By 2015, public sector and its appropriate bodies at the basin, regional, national and/or municipal level, have developed water footprint assessment and impact mitigation plans, specifically in water stressed areas taking into account global changes Technical University of Madrid
Target 4: Estimate the major components of the water footprint of food waste/losses and develop partnerships with other interested sectors to develop actions/strategies aiming at reducing the avoidable footprint of food waste/losses by 50% by 2020 Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières
Target 5: By 2012, a water footprint awareness program in support of the other goals is launched during the World Water Forum Water Education For Teacher Project
Target 6: By 2015, more than 20 major businesses and their supply chains, from multiple business sectors, have developed water footprint impact mitigation and sustainable water management certification programmes Alliance for Water Stewardship
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* This column indicates when thematic and regional targets are matching and have a good potential for mutual contribution and partnership.

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