Climate Change and Freshwater Resources

Freshwater contains low concentrations of dissolved salts and other total dissolved solids. It is an important renewable resource, necessary for the survival of most terrestrial organisms, and required by humans for drinking and agriculture, among many other uses.


Access to unpolluted fresh water is a critical issue for the survival of many species, including humans, who must drink fresh water in order to survive. Only three percent of the water on Earth is fresh water in nature, and about two-thirds of this is frozen in glaciers and polar ice caps. Most of the rest is underground and only 0.3 percent is surface water.

Fresh water lakes, most notably Lake Baikal in Russia and the Great Lakes in North America, contain seven-eighths of this fresh surface water. Swamps have most of the balance with only a small amount in rivers, most notably the Amazon River. The atmosphere contains 0.04% water.

In areas with no fresh water on the ground surface, fresh water derived from precipitation may, because of its lower density, overlie saline ground water in lenses or layers.

Freshwater resources and their management.

By mid-century, annual average river runoff and water availability are projected to increase by 10-40% at high latitudes and in some wet tropical areas, and decrease by 10-30% over some dry regions at mid-latitudes and in the dry tropics, some of which are presently water stressed areas. In some places and in particular seasons, changes differ from these annual figures.

Drought affected areas will likely increase in extent. Heavy precipitation events, which are very likely to increase in frequency, will augment flood risk.

Adaptation procedures and risk management practices for the water sector are being developed in some countries and regions that have recognised projected hydrological changes with related uncertainties. In the course of the century, water supplies stored in glaciers and snow cover are projected to decline, reducing water availability in regions supplied by melt water from major mountain ranges, where more than one-sixth of the world population currently lives.