Blog.Jun 23, 2021

Make or ‘break’ – We have only this decade

A new Netflix documentary highlights how humans are destabilizing Earth’s support systems, with potentially disastrous consequences. Freshwater is one of the interconnected 'boundaries' of our planet. How we manage and restore the water cycle will be one of humanity’s most decisive questions.  

Brown woman with a smile, multicolour scarf over an off white sweater
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Radhika Gupta
Communications Manager,

“You may never look at the world in the same way again,” according to narrator Sir David Attenborough. New Netflix documentary Breaking Boundaries warns that humanity is headed into a danger zone, and must immediately change track. To be precise, we only have this decade. The film is based on the Planetary Boundaries framework created by Swedish climate scientist Johan Rockström and his team. The framework describes the impact of human activity since the 1950s. We have fundamentally altered the natural processes that regulate Earth’s stability. We are now at risk of tipping the entire planet out of balance, which could create vicious cycles of collapsing ecosystems and escalating global warming. 

Freshwater, one of the nine boundaries

Rockström’s team has identified nine different boundaries that ensure life on the planet. The systems are so interconnected, that pushing one boundary, can throw others off balance. So far, four of the boundaries have been transgressed: climate, biodiversity, land, and the use of nutrients. “We are deep in the red” for biodiversity, potentially heading towards a sixth mass extinction. Globally, we are still within the boundary for freshwater use but locally it is being crossed in many places.

Humanity’s future will depend on our ability to live within the planetary boundaries, which will require a new relationship with the natural world, not least with water. Until now, water has often been forgotten in the climate debate, when it is in fact a part of the debate.

Ahead of the next climate meeting COP26, SIWI and the SIWI-UNDP’s Water Governance Facility have joined forces with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, headed by Johan Rockström, GIZ and the Stockholm Resilience Centre. In a new research project, the institutions will highlight the less understood role of water in climate change mitigation. 

Building Resilience Faster with World Water Week

While the Planetary Boundaries framework is relatively new, the science of tipping points is very new and rapidly expanding. In the documentary, Rockström says that science has already communicated these ideas for the past 30 years to little effect. Other scientists share the same frustration of not being heard.

The documentary concludes that Covid-19, an impact of crossing several of the boundaries, is also an opportunity to build back in the right direction. World Water Week, an annual event hosted by SIWI is set to achieve just that! The theme for 2021 is Building Resilience Faster

Several sessions (see programme) focus on ambitious solutions to climate change mitigation, cooperation across private and government sectors, and tangible action for water security. The event will take place digitally between 23-27 August, and anyone can sign up from any part of the world. Join us now!