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A global assessment of the impact of climate change on water scarcity

By Simon N. Gosling and Nigel W. Arnell


This paper presents a global scale assessment of the impact of climate change on water scarcity. Patterns of climate change from 21 Global Climate Models (GCMs) under four SRES scenarios are applied to a global hydrological model to estimate water resources across 1339 watersheds. The Water Crowding Index (WCI) and the Water Stress Index (WSI) are used to calculate exposure to increases and decreases in global water scarcity due to climate change. 1.6 (WCI) and 2.4 (WSI) billion people are estimated to be currently living within watersheds exposed to water scarcity. Using the WCI, by 2050 under the A1B scenario, 0.5 to 3.1 billion people are exposed to an increase in water scarcity due to climate change (range across 21 GCMs). This represents a higher upper-estimate than previous assessments because scenarios are constructed from a wider range of GCMs. A substantial proportion of the uncertainty in the global-scale effect of climate change on water scarcity is due to uncertainty in the estimates for South Asia and East Asia. Sensitivity to the WCI and WSI thresholds that define water scarcity can be comparable to the sensitivity to climate change pattern. More of the world will see an increase in exposure to water scarcity than a decrease due to climate change but this is not consistent across all climate change patterns. Additionally, investigation of the effects of a set of prescribed global mean temperature change scenarios show rapid increases in water scarcity due to climate change across many regions of the globe, up to 2°C, followed by stabilisation to 4°C

Publisher: Springer
Year: 2016
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