Water scarcity caused by climate change will create global security concerns, according to Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, chair of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
While speaking at the 2009 Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN, the expert said: "At one level the world's water is like the world's wealth. Globally, there is more than enough to go round. The problem is that some countries get a lot more than others.
"With 31 percent of global freshwater resources, Latin America has 12 times more water per person than South Asia. Some places, such as Brazil and Canada, get far more water than they can use; others, such as countries in the Middle East, get much less than they need."
And the effects of a warmer world will likely include changes in water availability.
"Up to 1.2 billion people in Asia, 250 million Africans and 81 million Latin Americans will be exposed to increased water stress by 2020," Pachauri says.
Water shortages have an enormous impact of human health, including malnutrition, pathogen or chemical loading, infectious disease from water contamination, and uncontrolled water reuse.
"Due to the very large number of people that may be affected, food and water scarcity may be the most important health consequences of climate change," Pachauri says.
"We live on a small planet where communication and influences go from one corner of the Earth to another," he says.
"If there's a major disruption to peace in one part of the globe, no other part is insulated from it. We need to look at what happens to the rest of the world with some degree of alarm; these influences have very dangerous implications for the rest of the world," he adds.
Even societies with "high adaptive capacity" are vulnerable to climate change, variability and extremes, he continues.
"A technological society has two choices," Pachauri says.
"It can wait until catastrophic failures expose systemic deficiencies, distortion and self-deceptions, or the culture can provide social checks and balances to correct for systemic distortion prior to catastrophic failures.
"Global emissions of greenhouse gases will have to decline by 2015. If we can achieve that, we may be able to avoid the worst effects of climate change," he says.