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Why do we climb mountains? with Ed Caesar

Long stories short Keir Starmer announced plans to block all new North Sea oil and gas developments if Labour is elected.More than 100 US and EU legislators called for the removal of Sultan al Jaber, head of the UAE oil company Adnoc, as president of Cop28.Axa, Allianz and three other major insurers quit the Net Zero Insurance Alliance after mounting political pressure in the US. Watershed moment “Michael Burry is focusing all of his trading on one commodity: water.” That’s the final line of The Big Short, the film about a short-seller who made a fortune betting against the housing bubble. Burry’s not the only one to realise how precious it has become. US states have just struck an unprecedented three-year deal to ration water supplies from the shrinking Colorado River. Arizona, Nevada and California have agreed to cut consumption by 13 per cent in an attempt to sustain the livelihoods of 40 million people that rely on the river for drinking water and electricity. The federal government is backing the deal with $1.2 billion in funds, doled out to the owners of water-rights in exchange for voluntary cuts. The wettest winter seen in the Rockies for decades helped to sweeten it. So what? It’s a breakthrough – but also a sticking plaster. It would likely take 10 to 15 years of this year’s record snowpack to fill the historic Hoover Dam, currently at less than a third of capacity. The flow of the Colorado has declined 20 per cent since the start of the century as desert crops, thirsty livestock, housing developments and climate change have taken their toll.  That said, the deal is remarkable for two reasons: Politics. It achieves consensus on an issue that has long been anathema to electorates around the world: water rationing. “There’s a wide sense, especially among politicians, that the solution is new infrastructure to help with floods, droughts and water management,” says John Matthews, executive director of the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation. “Governance is a more powerful tool, but it’s also more difficult.” The law. It rewrites an 100 year-old legal framework known as the Law of the River which currently allocates more water than the river provides. Matthews says the law favours “entrenched interests” by granting claims to water on the basis of “first-in-time, first-in-right”. Native American tribes have filed repeated legal claims arguing they have been denied their share. Colorado has more lawyers specialising in water rights than the rest of the US combined. True to form, the approach taken by the Biden administration is decidedly interventionist. It acknowledges that a wholly market-driven approach to water management can’t last in a warming world. Other countries might take note, including Spain, where as of this month 80 per cent of the countryside was affected by drought. In Andalucia a plan to allow more irrigation from the Doñana river is pitting conservationists against farmers and is being challenged by Brussels for breaching EU law. Local politicians on both sides are “making impossible promises around water availability.” Uruguay, where the national water company has begun mixing limited amounts of salt water from the River Plate estuary into its drinkable water after extended drought became acute this month. The US embassy reported that current reservoirs of drinking water for the capital Montevideo would last 18 days in current conditions. Public anger at the shortages has spilled out onto the streets. The UK, where pressure is rising on the water companies privatised since Thatcher. Last month, water quality became a key issue at local elections after figures from the Environment Agency showed companies pumped sewage into England’s waterways 855 times a day on average last year. A widely shared list on social media named 265 Conservative MPs who voted to “allow” the process to continue. After record droughts last summer, rationing is also under review. Last month a Lords Committee said the regulator Ofwat had “given more focus to a short-term desire to keep water bills low at the expense of long-term environmental and security-of-supply considerations”. Physical engineering can still help. Around 2.9 billion litres of water are lost daily through leakage from the UK’s ageing water system. But the National Infrastructure Commission says that up to 4 billion extra could be needed daily by 2050. It recommends a change in the law that would allow a nationwide rollout of smart meters for monitoring supply in each home. As droughts intensify, so will the politics of water. Old laws will have to be rewritten and behaviours will have to change. Pumping extra water from rivers is not a long term fix. Also, in the nibs UK food companies are on track for 1.8C of warming An ecological survey of the Pacific raises questions about deep-sea mining Climate-friendly farming is facing an uphill battle MEPs voted against an EU law to restore nature If you want to get in touch, drop us a line at sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com. With thanks to our coalition members: a network of organisations similarly committed to achieving Net Zero Visit the homepage to find out more about the coalition and join us.