Global warming: how to live in dry areas

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It has now become clear except to diehard climate sceptics that some parts of the globe will have to adjust to a hostile environment where even access to water is a daily challenge. Water use cannot be based solely on price, so local authorities are turning to rationing. Nowadays, more and more regulations have been implemented, and being familiar with these is important even when you’re watering your garden or washing your car, as an increasing number of people are being turned in to the authorities . Even so, stopgaps like these are not viable in the long term. Adjusting to these unprecedented situations requires structural measures and public investment. Sustainable, long-term solutions must be found.

Some countries with a long experience of dry climates have found ways to cope with recurring water shortages.

For example in the Negev, Israel, polluted or briny/brackish water is treated by an innovative solar-powered process of low-pressure nanofiltration. The purified water that it produces is used to irrigate crops. The resulting high-concentration brine is itself purified and used as fertiliser for salt-tolerant species such as certain varieties of olive trees, beets and tomatoes. In Israeli cities, rainwater, especially during the heavy springtime storms, is bio-filtered and channelled to irrigate city parks or supply reservoirs and groundwater.

Innovation doesn’t stop there 

Some laboratories on the cutting edge of farming technologies are researching cactus biology – their salt tolerance and the edible varieties that can be grown. Others are taking a systematic census of the entire world’s plant species, studying their nutritive qualities, assessing their resistance to hydric stress, and measuring their potential for large-scale cultivation. The most promising of these are undergoing full-scale operating tests. Tomorrow’s farming practices have already arrived and are being developed in laboratories.

Modern drip irrigation

Another example is modern drip irrigation (see exhibit 1), which is based on ancestral practices and began development in Israel more than 50 years ago. Drip irrigation saves around 20% to 40% of water compared to traditional flood or ditch irrigation. It also reduces fertiliser doses, eliminates diseases that are carried when water is in contact with leaves, and promotes plant rooting. These processes have been gradually adopted by many farmers worldwide, including arid parts of Spain, California, Australia and South America. Researchers from these countries have optimised their use over time.

Exhibit 1: Explanation of a modern drip irrigation system

dripirrigation

Source: Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd as of 9 September 2016

On large farms they are now computer-automated based on the time of day, weather conditions and the degree of ground hygrometry. However, drip irrigation is not yet widespread, mainly due to the cost of the necessary equipment. It is used on just 2% of the world’s farmed land area . However, future population growth, rapidly rising living standards in emerging economies, and extreme climatic phenomena are major challenges in meeting the subsistence needs of as many people as possible worldwide. Given its advantages, drip irrigation is therefore highly likely to come into wider use in the coming years. This will require heavy investment and, most likely, grants and subsidies from the governments concerned.

Based on technological advances invented or developed in research centres, companies have grown up around the search for practical solutions to water access problems. As mentioned above, global warming concerns could become more frequent and are threatening entire populations that had thus far been spared. These companies have a bright future ahead of them. Under the “Aqua” and “Climate Impact” strategies that BNP Paribas Investment Partners promotes, its environment funds invests precisely in the fastest-growing of these companies and provides them with the financing they need. [divider] [/divider]

This article was written by Alexandre Jeanblanc on 5 September 2016 in Paris

Alexandre Jeanblanc

Investment Specialist, SRI

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