This article was first published in iAgua magazine on 27th July 2020 in Spanish; the below is an English translation. To review in its original location, in source language, please click here.

During these last months, we have been able to see how pollution rates have dropped drastically, the skies are blue again, nature has returned to life and even seismologists have noticed that the Earth is vibrating less. We’ve given our blue planet a good rest.

Since February, NASA satellites have detected drops of between 20% and 30% in nitrogen dioxide emissions in some regions of countries hit hard by COVID-19, such as Italy, China and the United States.

However, these improvements have come at the cost of people’s health and the economic slowdown, which makes us consider that not enough work is being done to alleviate the problem of climate change at the institutional, personal and business levels. It is useless that we now have good environmental indices if human beings do not yet see the advantages of giving our planet a break, investing in green initiatives, betting on the circular economy and sustainable businesses and the need to change our production and consumption habits.

White and Blue Solar Panel

According to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of San Diego in the US, to achieve a notable decrease in the amounts of CO 2 in the atmosphere, a sustained reduction of 10% globally in the use of fuels should be achieved fossils for a year. And it is that there are already data that support this change. A new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) published in early June reveals that “clean energy is getting cheaper, more than any technology based on fossil fuels.

On average, new solar PV and onshore wind capacity is cheaper than running many existing coal plants, and auction results indicate that this trend is accelerating, reinforcing the case for the total abandonment of coal usage.

Among the Sustainable Development Goals is “to guarantee the availability of water and its sustainable management and sanitation for all”

Some cities such as Paris have already begun initiatives in favor of the environment, such as the construction of 650 kilometers of “crown bike paths”, and Milan has announced an ambitious plan to reduce the use of cars and prioritize pedestrians and cyclists. Likewise, in Spain, numerous roads have been pedestrianized to multiply open spaces accessible to pedestrians.

After COP-25 held in Madrid last December, 2020 should be a decisive year for initiatives against climate change. However, the cyclone of the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the next summit, as well as plans and initiatives related to climate and climate change. However, public awareness on this issue means that there is no turning back. Society, and especially young people, demand more interest from governments and companies, and they pretend to be a new green generation that protects their planet.

Among the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to “ensure the availability of water and its sustainable management and sanitation for all.” Such scarcity of water resources, together with poor water quality and inadequate sanitation, have an impact on food security, livelihoods and educational opportunities for poor families around the world. Initiatives to achieve this goal include protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems, expanding international cooperation and support to developing countries for water and sanitation programs, andpromote water capture, desalination, efficient use of water resources, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies.

For its part, the UN health agency, with the support of millions of health workers, published in May 2020 a manifesto with the steps to follow for a green and healthy recovery after the pandemic:

  1. Protect and preserve the source of human health: nature.
  2. Invest in essential services, from water and sanitation to clean energy in sanitary facilities.
  3. Ensure a fast and healthy energy transition.
  4. Promote healthy and sustainable food systems.
  5. Build healthy and livable cities.
  6. Stop using public money to finance pollution.

White Windmill

As we can see, water is on all agendas and initiatives related to environmental goals. But the reality is that we are ending the fresh water reserves of the entire planet, contributing little or nothing to the search for new unconventional water alternatives that allow us to preserve our natural sources. Investment in new and modern water infrastructures is high, but the short, medium and long term benefits are innumerable. Not only for the citizen or the industry that has a real need for water, but for the environment.

Investment in new and modern water infrastructures is high, but the benefits in the short, medium and long term are innumerable

And is that water is an ally in the fight against climate change. Solutions such as desalination and reuse are a safe alternative to produce quality water and, furthermore, help to preserve potable resources and maintain reserves for future generations.

Those most critical of desalination have always had an impact on its high energy consumption. But this problem is currently solved with reverse osmosis technology, which has drastically reduced its energy consumption. If we also combine this technology with the production of renewable photovoltaic energy and current market prices, we are not only facing a clear sustainable option that allows significant reductions in water rates, but also allows emission-neutral production.

Regarding reuse, this is becoming one more element in the management of water plans, being able to replace many uses that to date were made with drinking water. Once the technological barriers that clearly guarantee the quality and health of the water with the elimination of pathogens, color and odor, and its adequate monitoring on a continuous basis, there is no longer any excuse not to use the treated wastewater in agricultural, urban uses. or industrial.

So much so that in recent months there have been very important advances in the environment of the European Union. Last May, the Commission approved the new Regulation on the Reuse of Water. The new law defines for the first time minimum requirements at European level so that reclaimed water is used for agricultural purposes in a safe way, protecting people and the environment.

There are the means, the technology and the resources to continue walking on the path of sustainability and caring for the environment

The purpose of this new regulation is to ensure a wider use of treated wastewater in order to preserve freshwater bodies and groundwater. Falling groundwater levels, in particular due to agricultural irrigation, but also industrial use and urban development, is one of the main threats to water resources in the European Union.

Simona Bonafè (S&D, Italy), responsible for the parliamentary processing of the legislative text, pointed out: “6.600 million cubic meters of water could potentially be reused by 2025, compared to the current 1.100 million cubic meters per year. This will require an investment of less than 700 million euros and will allow us to reuse more than half of the current volume of water from the water treatment plants theoretically available for irrigation, avoiding more than 5% of direct extraction from the masses of water and groundwater.

Therefore, we come to the conclusion that water is key to continue fighting against climate change and its dire consequences on the planet. Investing in innovative water projects, especially in those regions with scarcity of the resource, is vital to ensure the supply of water and food, economic development and the natural environment.

But sometimes government budgets do not establish items to improve or expand renewable water infrastructures; however, they have the experience and liquidity of private companies, willing to invest and help in this regard. A change of mentality is necessary on the part of the institutions, so that they allow private financing to enter and thus be able to cover the real water needs of their population and industrial fabric.

Protest for Future

Obsolescence and poor management of water infrastructures cause tens of thousands of breakdowns and power outages per year, even in highly developed countries like the United States. Public-private collaboration would help mobilize the necessary resources, transferring risks and technological knowledge to expert companies in the field.

Therefore, we can affirm that the means, technology and resources exist to continue walking on the path of sustainability and caring for the environment. This temporary respite that we have given the Earth cannot be in vain. Governments, companies and citizens have to continue investing in our planet, to be able to secure resources and life in general. It is a critical issue. There is no planet B.

Yes, it is time to consolidate the fight against climate change and expand efforts to achieve a more sustainable world. In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of water both for people’s hygiene and health, as well as for food and direct consumption. 

What else do we need to invest in technology and projects that allow water to reach all human beings?