Warnings of climate change and our recent bouts with extreme climate events, there is a growing global push for green deals and green technology to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Technologies abound that promises to help us adapt effectively or reduce our vulnerabilities to climate change. But how do we know if these technologies will help us adapt or not to climate change?
Usually, climate scientists would categorise climate actions as either successful adaptations or maladaptation. This binary way of thinking is unhelpful because it does not consider the range of outcomes in various groups in different ways.
Adaptation measures can be beneficial to some but can be harmful to others, thus creating winners and losers during the implementation process as exemplified in a study of seawall protection conducted in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The complex interaction between success and unsuccessful effects of an adaptation solution is explored using seawater desalination to supplement freshwater supply to address water scarcity due to climate change.
Desalination is used in 150 countries worldwide as an alternative water supply. In Israel, 85% of their domestic water use is through desalination of the Mediterranean seawater.
There has been rapid growth in the use of desalination worldwide as countries are looking at other alternative freshwater supply in the face of water scarcity due to climate change and increasing demands from population growth.
Problems identified with the use of desalination as an adaptation solution
The study identified some issues concerning the use of desalination to provide freshwater to residents.
- First, desalination is energy-intensive; it takes a lot of power to separate salt from water, so water supply can quickly turn to energy security. Use of fossil fuels in the process can also increase GHG emissions.
- Second, freshwater availability through desalination can give residents a false sense of water abundance, thus neglecting to use water wisely and lead to water wastage.
- Third, building desalination plants rest on the assumption of maintaining or increasing consumption to guarantee revenue. In the absence of government subsidies producing water, this way is very costly.
In regions already experiencing poverty and water scarcity, producing water through desalination can further exacerbate unequal access to water and produce maladaptive outcomes.
In general adaptation to climate change can be complicated and decision-makers should consider the social, political, economic, cultural and infrastructural context when implementing a climate adaptation solution.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Construction of Adelaide Desalination Plant by User:Vmenkov – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11202747