Climate Change and Water 

Climate Change and Water 
Water and food security are interconnected. A reliable water supply boosts agricultural output, but a lack of it can be a significant factor in droughts and food shortages. Photo by Eduardo Stanley

A significant human and environmental crisis of the 21st century is thought to be climate change. Understanding climate change, sometimes known as global warming, is one of the most critical issues facing the federal government and all states.

The people and governments seem to be at a loss when the neglected issue of climate change is raised in public. Moreover, it has been argued that climate change leads to acute disputes, and it becomes imperative to understand the phenomenon properly. The term climate change thus refers to changes in the climate caused by human activity, especially the carbon dioxide that is emitted into the atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels. Energy production, which involves burning coal, oil or natural gas, is the principal cause of carbon dioxide emissions.

As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries committed to limiting global warming to pre-industrial levels, ideally to far below 2°C and preferably to 1.5°C. The pre-industrial period was before the Industrial Revolution, which began in the 19th century.

The average global temperature of Earth has risen by at least 1.1° Celsius (1.9° Fahrenheit) since 1880, according to an ongoing temperature investigation conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). Since 1975, most of the warming has happened, with an approximate annual warming rate of 0.15–0.20°C. The number of catastrophic disasters will increase and even reach infeasibility if global warming continues unchecked.

The scientific team that the United Nations established to track and evaluate all worldwide research on climate change is known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Every IPCC report focuses on different aspects of climate change.

The IPCC’s sixth synthesis report, which is the most recent one, updates and gathers information from all the reports from its sixth assessment cycle. It covers the most recent climate science, the threats that climate change is already posing to humanity, and what steps we can take to reduce future temperature rises and the risks they pose to the planet as a whole. The recent report shows that low-carbon technological advancements have been encouraging.

Nations are pledging to cut their emissions more aggressively and are doing more to support local populations in adapting to the effects of climate change. In addition, more funds are being committed for all this effort. The issue is that these efforts are insufficient.

Scarcity of Water

In light of increased worry about heat waves, drought and flooding brought on by climate change in several U.S. regions, many experts believe that the freshwater supply needed to meet diverse social demands is rapidly declining. Most of the remaining exploitable freshwater sources are now river basins shared by two or more states.

Water disputes could become more likely if these states are unable or unwilling to jointly develop and use their shared water resources sustainably and equitably. It is more challenging to manage cross-border rivers or bodies of water than those that are wholly or primarily contained within the borders of a single state.

It has been noted that more than 50% of the United States has recently experienced drought conditions, and it is predicted that 40 of the 50 states will face water shortages within the next 10 years, making this problem much worse and more urgent.

Water shortages will severely affect California, the South, the Midwest, the Southwest, the central Rocky Mountain states and the central and southern Great Plains. It’s time to start considering our limited supply of water resources as 40 of the 50 states anticipate water problems.

Rainfall is being affected by climate change. There are specific seasonal changes in water patterns; for example, as temperatures rise, the snowmelt that feeds many rivers begins and ends sooner. This causes a water deficit in the summer. Even in areas of the nation where precipitation is expected to rise, primarily in its northern regions, there is a trend toward more strong concentrations of rainfall that are challenging to catch and utilize.

Several river basins, especially those in the Southwest, the southern Great Plains and Florida, are predicted to experience simultaneous dryness. California has already experienced some of the worst droughts in recorded history in the West. In addition, the environmental research organization Worldwatch warned that water scarcity is currently “the single biggest threat to global food security.” There can be fierce competition to use more of the scarce water resources.

Sustainable Food Security 

Water and food security are undoubtedly intertwined. A reliable water supply boosts agricultural output, but a lack of it can be a significant factor in droughts and food shortages. The absence of water management contributes to environmental deterioration, recurrent droughts and high food prices in the nation.

Concentrating on the development of available water is an essential strategic plan for combating the issue of repeated drought, high food prices and environmental degradation. The political and economic history of climate change in the United States is riddled with paradoxes and inconsistencies, where abundant natural resources can be more of a curse than a blessing and a significant source of conflict rather than collaboration.

Although definitions of food security help define its goals and guide policy decisions, it’s equally important to consider the processes that result in the intended ends. All four aspects of food security—availability, accessibility, use and stability of food systems—are impacted by climate change.

Climate change will also affect how food is produced and distributed and how purchasing power and market dynamics change. Its effects will be long term due to shifting precipitation and temperature patterns and short term due to more frequent and intense extreme weather events.

To date, no extensive integrated planning has been done to create statewide collaboration, and there is no comprehensive agreement on water usage in many states. Only in the Midwest are there a few agreements between some riparian states.

The water demand will rise as supply declines. The average daily water consumption in the United States is 80–100 gallons, with a projected daily use of more than 345 billion gallons.

Furthermore, environmental policy measures in the United States have mostly gone undefined. If not given the attention it deserves, the lack of cooperation among cities, states and the federal government will continue to be one of the primary sources of dispute and food crises. Therefore, it is the responsibility of those who make decisions to ensure that future generations will have access to reliable water.

Regional disputes are anticipated to increase as a result of rising water shortage unless a statewide water development strategy is considered a potential solution to conflict prevention and sustainable food production. Inter- or intra-state conflicts in our nation are incredibly destructive and could potentially result in unthinkable humanitarian catastrophes.

Most academics argue that disputes arise in cross-border river systems because of water constraints. Addressing the water issues could help resolve water-oriented conflicts in the country.

Legal, Policy and Institutional Challenges

The reaction of the federal government and the states to climate change remains inadequate, although it is one of the most critical concerns facing the nation. However, early indications of a climate change regime have started to appear in recent years, although they are being hampered by several issues, such as member states’ competing needs, which have limited the ability to adopt statewide climate change policies.

In addition, it was argued that investments should be made in areas that can lead to the fastest and most significant increases in productivity and competitiveness. The nation has sufficient core resources to carry out high-priority food security actions at the local, state and federal levels. Investment can generate the required momentum and capacity for absorption to leverage additional public and private external capital inflows into agriculture if it is adequately implemented and concentrated on strategic food security.


The nation is forced to undertake a paradigm shift in its response to the various challenges posed by climate change due to the critical connections between water, food security and the environment on one hand and development and cooperation on the other.

Without strong political will and authority at the highest levels of national leadership, backed by a climate of domestic stability in every state, multilateral collaboration over the shared waterways is not conceivable. These conditions, however, cannot be fully met without statewide cooperation regarding the shared common natural resource.

Interstate relations, domestic politics and the standard of living in the United States will all continue to suffer because of unresolved water disputes.


  • Debay Tadesse

    Debay Tadesse, Ph.D., graduated with a B.A. in world history from Georgia State University and an M.A. in African history and a Ph.D. in African studies with a focus on public policy and development from Howard University. He is currently a lecturer at Fresno City College and Fresno State.

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