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claudij | Ideas

Water blog Part I – can virtual water tackle a looming crisis?

The “water footprint” is the total amount of water used to produce goods and services (Photo credit: CC BY 2.0: Thor/

In 2010, UN Resolution 64/292 explicitly recognized the human right to clean water and sanitation, acknowledging that they are essential to the realization of all human rights. The numbers are staggering. The UN claims that 783 million people had no access to clean water in 2012.

But according to Asit Biswas, a former member of the World Commission on Water, the real figures are probably much higher.  “Look at South Asia alone. Some 1.7 billion people live in this region. I challenge anyone to show me a single city or village where people have access to clean water. My guess is that some 2.3 billion people are now without access to clean water”,  Biswas told The European.

So is the world fast running out of clean water, or is it all a question of better water management? And if so what could it look like? This three-part blog series by Julian Claudi will focus on several proposed and partly tried and tested methods and techniques for improving the situation.

We start off by taking a closer look at virtual water trading and real water trading. What’s the deal with these concepts? They’re not really new terms and a lot has been said and done about them for several years. But could they become tools for a solution?

The Virtual Water conceptreveals how much water it takes to produce any product. It refers to the “hidden” water use embedded in products and helps us realize how much water is needed to produce the goods we use and the food we eat. For instance, for one cup of coffee about 140 liters of water is needed. That includes the water used in growing, producing, packaging and shipping the beans that went into that cup of coffee. Read more:

Few are aware of the “hidden” amounts of water that goes into the goods and food we consume daily (Photo credit: Photo credit: CC BY 2.0: Ian Murphy/

Virtual water trade refers to the flow of water if food or other commodities are traded from one place to another. That means there is a virtual flow of water from producing and exporting countries to countries that consume and import those commodities.

A new study by the EU commission has shown that agricultural products are by far the largest drain on water resources.  It says that the consumption water footprint of the average EU citizen is 4,815 litres per day, 40 percent of which is the result of imports from other countries, mainly cocoa, coffee and cotton. Comparing imports and exports showed that the EU28 is a net importer of ‘virtual’ water.

John Anthony Allen, a British geographer is widely credited with creating and popularizing the idea of “virtual water” with his book, Virtual Water: Tackling the Threat to our Planet’s Most Precious Resources.  “Our ignorance is immense,”  Allen has said. “Most of us don’t have the slightest idea about the sheer volumes of water involved in our daily lives.” He was awarded the the Stockholm Water Prize in 2008 for his contributions.

So would it make sense to use virtual water calculations for a global trading system? Opinions are divided. Much like the criticism surrounding carbon emission trading between industrialized nations and developing ones,  critics of the virtual water trade concept argue that several aspects carry negative consequences for the poorest countries like rising dependency on external water resources or the possibility given by trade to “exploit” water resources in other parts of the world.

A paper written for Germany’s Helmholtz Center for Environment Research  says global interlinkages of water resources induced by trade can worsen gaps between nations.

“Feelings of unfairness arise due to the fact that those countries which are endowed with the most abundant water resources and thus are able to supply virtual water to the arid countries of the South (the Big Five), belong to the group of wealthy industrial countries, which are able to influence agricultural trade in many ways. On the one hand, high levels of protection in the form of tariffs and quotas, especially of the European Union, the USA and Japan, are criticised for being a major constraint for ‘the development of the virtual water market’”.

In contrast, hydrologist Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton University, sees the virtual water system as a water saving solution, concluding “that in most scenarios the total amount of virtual water trade will decrease by 2030, but the amount of water saved as a result of the trade will increase.

The whole virtual water phenomenon has also led to a debate on water trading markets, which some say have the potential to revolutionize the way water is managed.

Yet, the US-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) says in the study “Water Governance in the 21st Century: Lessons from Water Trading in the U.S. and Australia” that allocation of water should not be based on commodification and economic efficiency alone.

“The national water sector reforms underway in many countries should consider the hidden costs of existing market based approaches, and should be premised on the notion of water as a commons, available first and foremost for public purposes (including the realization of right to water and right to food).”

Millions of people around the world lack access to clean water (Photo credit:CC BY 2.0: John O’Nolan/

Finally, one thing most experts seem to agree on is that the virtual water concept does raise awareness about the daily water consumption in the western world. 

But at the same time it appears that as long as the concept of virtual water is inextricably linked with the current prevalent global economic trade system, there is always the risk of an ineffectiveness of the system causing unjust financial advantages and a distraction from the search for other solutions.

Some experts such as Maude Barlow, co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, which works internationally for the human right to water, warn of water’s close links to the international trading system.

“We’ve got to stop thinking that the water wars of the future will be on a battlefield somewhere, they’re going to be on the grain markets, the stock markets and grain trading as part of the international trading system. It is about the water that has been pulled into this profit-making mostly food production and it’s very dangerous,” Barlow said.


July 5, 2013



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Klaus Esterluß | Ideas

A Song, a Dance and Spots on the Fight Against Climate Change

Yesterday, the colossal efforts each and every one of us put in the project came to fruition as the pinnacle of our project, the 1st world youth sustainability summit, came to be.

The event, many of whose attendees were project managers and leading figures in their respective fields, were pleasantly surprised as the youthinkgreen teams that took part in the gala showed discipline, determination and that they were not to be discouraged by the sheer size and importance of the event at hand.

The program, whose highlights were the youthinkgreen rendition of the song ,,Mut zum Handeln” (courage to act), the various student-produced environmentally oriented spots, and the Indian dance showed the unique inter-cultural connection between the various members of the Youthinkgreen.

The excitement at the event rubbed off on each and every one of our guests, with many of them on the verge of euphoria. We were standing hand-in-hand with people whose success has come to be known on every continent of the planet and watched in amazement as they relaxed and spoke to us as peers, not as minors, as friends not as climate change fighters.

All in all, to simply call our summit a success would be an understatement. The Allianz Forum will forever in our hearts be remembered as the place where we graduated into adults, supported along our journey by the constant recognition we received throughout the process.

Written by Mourad Farahat, youthinkgreen Kairo


May 17, 2013



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Klaus Esterluß | Ideas

Handing over the „Tree of Hope“

Photo: youthinkgreen, the "Tree of Hope"The „Tree of Hope“ had a long and fruitful journey. First we planet it at the climate summit in Doha in December 2012. And now it grew at the 1st World Youth Sustainability Summit 2013 in Berlin. The tree is actually not a real tree. It’s trunk is made from garbage and the crown from green paper leafs filled with the wishes, demands and ideas of people from all over the world.

It’s a beautiful and complex tree, meant to be a demand against mankinds extravagantly and unecological lifestyle. People should see the tree, read the leafs and think about their own daily routines. All 160 participants of the Youth Sustainability Summit collected the wishes and demands from friends and siblings in the 31 countries they call home. The tree grew upto 4 meters yesterday at the Brandenburg Gate in the centre of Berlin. And it grew more leafs as citizens and tourists also started to write on leafs.

Photo: youthinkgreenBesides the „Tree of Hope“ we used a 10qm blanket to illustrate the ecological foot- and hand-print everybody has. The foot-print depends on the way people live and how they consume things. The hand-print shows that it’s possible to fight against climate change. So we asked people to leave a colourfull print of feed and hands on the white blanket. The action was a success, it ended with a gala at the Allianzforum (Read the post by Mourad Farahat) where a nice breeze shook the leafs of the trees.

The leafs are filled with all kinds of demands, as you can see on the pictures. The ideas and wishes very much depend on where the writer comes from. You can imagine that a person from a developing countries shares quite different hopes as someone from a industrialized country.

We hope that all our wishes and demands will come true. That’s more than important to leave our children and grandchildren a world that is worth living. The way we live today destroys the future. I personally want to live in a world where nature has a more important role again and not only profit. I wish for more green spaces in cities, more room for bicycles and children to play. The „Tree of Hope“ is now in the hands of the German Environmental Minister Peter Altmaier. We hope for results.

Written by Anke Britta Schmidt, youthinkgreen Osnabrück /ke


May 17, 2013



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Klaus Esterluß | Ideas

1st World Youth Sustainability Summit 2013 in Berlin

Young people from all over the world are in Berlin today to take part in the first World Youth Sustainability Summit. The conference is organized by youthinkgreen, an international organization that brings together young folks from 11 different countries, such as Egypt, Brazil, China, India or Germany. They all come from diverse cultural, religious and social backgrounds. The idea behind youthinkgreen is to train the youngsters to become climate ambassadors. They’re meant to use their knowledge to set up and support sustainability projects in the countries they come from.
Youthinkgreen @ Wolfsburg
The Berlin-based organization has some prominent supporters – German Chancellor, Dr. Angela Merkel and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres and the president of the European Parliament, Dr. Hans-Gert Pöttering.

Over the next ten days, many of the youthinkgreen network’s members will be in Berlin to get in touch with politicians, scientists and residents of the German capital to discuss future challenges.

Youth and Sustainability in Everday Life – Challenge, Rethink and Revive Global Ways of Living

The conference will kick off later today at the Mercator Foundation in Berlin, followed by workshops, speeches and excursions until May 20th.  The participants are to visit Berlin’s rubbish collection and sanitation department BSR and  popular urban gardening site Prinzessinnengarten. At the Brandenburg Gate, youthinkgreen plans to approach residents and tourists while planting the so called “Tree Of Hope,” an idea that Global Ideas followed during the last Climate Summit in Doha, Qatar in December 2012.

The most urgent questions for youthinkgreen are: what kind of a lifestyle do you support for today, tomorrow, the future? In which aspects are politics, economy and civil society responsible for the organisation of a humane life? Doesn’t the wish for a future socially and ecologically secured belong to the catalogue of human rights?

The result of the summit will be a common position paper written by the participants on “Youth and Sustainability in Everyday Life – Challenge, Rethink and Revive Global Ways of Living.”

You can follow youthinkgreen on facebook and twitter. We’ll come back to the World Youth Sustainability Summit with some young voices from the conference, later this week. Participants will write about their experiences, feelings and the results of the conference.


May 10, 2013



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sumisom | Ideas

Windy City Preparing for Reality of Climate Change

The New York Times recently featured an interesting article about what one major city is doing to prepare for the inevitable: global warming. The U.S. city of Chicago, known as the “Windy City,” is used to cold winters and pretty warm summers, but those summers could get a lot hotter, and soon.

A team of climate scientists put together a report for city planners about the future of Chicago as the city continues to get warmer. And the city was in for a shock: by the end of the century, Chicago could experience temperatures of 32 degrees (celsius) or more for up to 72 days. The city only got that hot for about 15 days a year during the last century. That added heat could have some serious consequences, like damaged roads and property as well as more heat-related deaths every year.

So city planners are being proactive. They’re using thermal radar to find Chicago’s hottest zones and adding green vegetation there instead of pavement to create a cooler surface. Concrete streets are getting a facelift, too, with a fresh coat of pavement that lets rainwater seep through into the ground below. And the state’s famous white oak trees are being replaced with special trees that keep cool in hot climates–like sweet gum trees.

Chicago wants cope with its warming temperatures now rather than later in the hope that the transition won’t be so tough later on. So what do you think: is this a good model for cities to prepare for the future?


May 31, 2011



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