Water has to become a common good – two new reports show

03/22/2023 - Water overuse and a failure to recognize that countries are interdependent when it comes to the global water cycle has put the world on a path to a potential 40% freshwater supply shortfall by the end of the decade. Water therefore has to be treated as a global common good. This is stated in a report by the Global Commission on the Economics of Water (GCEW) and also in a Nature Commentary – both led by PIK director Johan Rockström and released in the context of the UN Water Conference in New York, the first such meeting in 50 years.
Water has to become a common good – two new reports show
Photo: Jong Marshes/Unsplash

„We are now pushing the global water cycle out of balance, undermining the source of all freshwater – precipitation – upon which societies are completely dependent on,” Johan Rockström explains.

The 32-pages GCEW report titled Turning the Tide: A Call to Collective Action, marks the first time the global water system has been scrutinized comprehensively as well as its value to countries — and the risks to their prosperity if water is neglected.

The majority of countries depend on the evaporation of water from neighboring countries for about half of their water supply. This "green" water is held in soils and transpired from forests and other ecosystems. Countries are not only interconnected by transboundary blue water flows but also through green water, i.e., atmospheric green water flows of water vapor, flows which extend far beyond traditional watershed boundaries.

Water is not just a casualty but also a driver of the climate crisis. Extreme water events cause an immediate loss of carbon uptake in nature. Droughts lead to fires and massive loss of biomass, carbon, and biodiversity. The loss of wetlands is depleting the planet's greatest carbon store, while the drop in soil moisture is reducing the terrestrial and forest ecosystem's ability to sequester carbon.

To meet growing challenges like floods, droughts and water insecurity, the authors demand in the report and in the Nature Commentary that water must be recast as a global common good. That means states establish an obligation under international law to ensure the protection of the global water cycle for all people and for present and future generations, and acknowledge that actions in one place have impacts in another.

“The future of the bloodstream that keeps Earth’s heartbeat intact is at stake,” Johan Rockström states.

Link to GCEW report "Turning the Tide: A Call to Collective Action":


Link to Nature Commentary "Why we need a new economics of water as a common good":



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