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Remarks on World Water Day

Remarks on World Water Day

Catherine A. Novelli
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment
Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
March 21, 2014

Thank you very much, Kerri Ann. One thing that is probably not obvious from my resume, but from among the agreements that I got to negotiate when I was at USTR was the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement, which was the first free trade agreement to have in the body of the agreement an environment chapter. And it was a huge privilege to work on that agreement and to work with the Jordanians, who actually did a – their first ever public comment process about what should be in there. So even though I’m not completely as experienced as Kerri Ann, I love these issues and I hope that I can do everything I can in my capacity to push these things forward.

It is a real pleasure to be here today with Kerri Ann, with Dr. Holdren, and all of you to mark World Water Day. Today’s event would not be possible without the support of the U.S. Water Partnership, as Kerri Ann mentioned, and its members. The Partnership is entering its third year and now has 87 members from across the U.S. Government, business community, and civil society. Unfortunately, Secretary Kerry was unable to join us today. As you know, he is passionate about environmental issues, including water, climate change, and oceans, and I share that passion.

As Kerri Ann mentioned, I am the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. This role has the ability to look at the intersection of economics, energy, and environment. And water is one area where we see these intersections and tradeoffs quite clearly.

The international community created World Water Day in 1993 as a constant reminder of the fundamental and integrated nature of water. Unfortunately, too many of us still take water for granted. But there is hope. Coming from Apple, I have seen firsthand how technology can quickly change the world. So I’m especially pleased to be surrounded by such an esteemed group of innovators and technologists. I commend your efforts to roll up your sleeves, figure out, and mobilize solutions to one of today’s most complex challenges.

Consider this: By 2050, the OECD predicts that there will be nine and a half billion people on Earth, and that we will need 80 percent more energy, 55 percent more water, and 60 percent more food to meet our demand. As McKinsey reports, by 2030, if we continue business as usual, water demand could outstrip supply by 40 percent. This has the potential to put $3 trillion of the global domestic product, or 22 percent of the world’s economy, at risk.

At the heart of this high-stakes challenge is the water-energy-food nexus. To produce energy, we need water. Most people equate water and energy production with dams, but almost all methods we have of producing energy require some water or can have an impact on our water resources. In the United States, for instance, some 50 percent of our freshwater withdrawals go towards creating thermoelectric power. At the same time, getting people the water they need where they need it requires energy. If you’ve ever carried a gallon of water around or shoveled any snow this winter – and more is on the way, I understand – you know that water is heavy. If we are going to be serious about reducing our energy needs and about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, then we need to be smarter and more efficient about how we move, treat, and use our water resources. And we need to do all of this conscious of the impacts water can have not only on people but also on our environment.

Our forests, our wetlands, our oceans, and all of the biodiversity these systems support depend on water. We’ve all seen the pictures of the shrinking of Lake Chad and heard about the resulting conflicts between farmers, fishers, herders, and wildlife. We are concerned at the rapid and potentially unsustainable development of some of the world’s most important rivers, like the Mekong in South East Asia, a system on which more than 70 million people depend. Like Lake Chad and the Mekong River, much of the world’s water resources are shared among communities, between nations, and between regions. In fact, there are over 260 shared river basins.

As competition for these increasingly scarce freshwater resources increases, tensions will likely rise as well. Climate change will exacerbate these challenges and tensions. Our natural systems for storing water, glaciers and snowpack, are projected to decline in many water-scarce resource regions. Drought, coupled with increasing demands, will stress local communities and countries. Mitigating these tensions requires us to innovate and work together to sustainably manage these shared water resources.

For all these reasons, the United States is working to create a more water-secure world. Here in this room, we have the brain trust for solutions – scientists, entrepreneurs, businesses, NGOs, even a few diplomats, all with the same goal: to excite the world about American-developed innovative technologies for solving some of the world’s most pressing water challenges. We have colleagues from USTDA, Ex-Im Bank, OPIC, SBA, EPA, and the State Department here to discuss how they can support your efforts to market new technologies at home and abroad.

Sustainable economic growth means smart development that does not prejudice our future or the environment. It is a privilege to be here with all of you, working in partnership to that end. I am confident that together, we can change the current trajectory and preserve our future. Thank you. (Applause.)


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