According to the most extensive evaluation of climate research to date, water issues - drought, with its attendant wildfires and flooding - are expected to grow considerably worse throughout the planet as climate crisis intensifies.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says global warming of at least 1.5 degrees Celsius is expected to occur during the next two decades. As the world's temperature rises, so will the planet's water cycle, with currently wet places getting even wetter and already arid parts becoming more prone to drought.
"As the atmosphere warms due to global warming, it can hold and transport more moisture - so, at the largest scale, we expect to see an acceleration of the hydrological cycle: stronger evaporation in the tropics and more intense rainfall in the high latitudes and some equatorial regions," said Prof Mike Meredith, a lead author for the IPCC.
In existing wet places, this will mean more frequent and severe extreme rainfall events and an increase in the frequency and severity of flooding.
"There is already considerable evidence that such shifts are occurring. Droughts may worsen and linger longer in certain arid places. Such dangers are exacerbated by knock-on effects, such as an increased risk of wildfires, which we are now seeing."
"The premise of a warmer world is that more water will be evaporated, which will worsen droughts, and this additional water in the atmosphere will increase the quantity of rain when it does rain," said Prof Ralf Toumi, co-director of Imperial College London's Grantham Institute on Climate Change.
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"Climate change will make wet and dry regimes more extreme," said Ilan Kelman, a professor of catastrophes and health at University College London. In already arid places like the Mediterranean and southern Africa, soil moisture will decrease, and dry periods will increase. As a result, seasonal rainfall variability is predicted to rise, with fewer days of rain and greater deluge intensity.
The second half of the IPCC report will detail the predicted consequences of the climate crisis on water. More than 200 pages are dedicated to this subject alone in the monumental IPCC report released last week. The results so far offer the starkest warnings yet of the challenges the world faces.
The IPCC has warned that monsoons could become more unpredictable in the future. It said it was concerned about the possible implications of monsoon winds and monsoon rains.
"Monsoon precipitation is expected to rise by the end of the century, particularly for the monsoons in the south and south-east Asia, east Asia, and the central Sahel [in Africa], said Dr. Andy Turner, associate professor of monsoon systems at Reading University and a key author for the IPCC. Internal variability, on the other hand, will dominate near-term monsoon fluctuations. As a result, extreme occurrences in monsoon regions, such as periods of excessive rainfall, floods, and drought, will become more often and severe with each incremental degree of warming."
Hundreds of millions of people rely on glaciers for water and agriculture, and these are expected to be among the most severely impacted water systems. "Measurements reveal glaciers in many regions of the world now have negative mass balances even with current global mean temperatures," said Roger Braithwaite, an honorary senior research fellow at the University of Manchester.
As a result, glaciers are not considered 'safe' under the Paris Agreement [which sets a goal of 1.5°C and a limit of 2°C]."
"Glaciers have retreated globally since the 1990s; this is unprecedented in at least two millennia and is a clear indicator of the consequences of global warming," Meredith continued.
In addition, many towns downstream rely on high-mountain glaciers for their way of life since they provide a consistent source of freshwater for drinking and irrigating crops.
According to Jonathan Farr, senior policy analyst for climate change at the charity WaterAid, these impacts on water systems are already causing devastation to millions of people worldwide, worsening poverty, disrupting societies, and turning life into a daily struggle for some of the most vulnerable.
Governments convening in Glasgow in November for the UN Cop26 climate conference must take action not just on greenhouse gas emissions but also on giving funds for impoverished countries to adapt to the already-observed consequences of the climate catastrophe, he stressed.
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