Energy Future

Climate change is set to hit your tap

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for
Two thirds of the world without clean water

Global climate change isn't just expected to affect temperatures, there's a good chance it'll hurt what comes out of your tap.

"The major problem with climate change is not the climate, it's the water," Benedito Braga, president of the World Water Council, said on the sidelines of the Singapore International Water Week conference.

"The problems that will come with climate change will be felt in the water sector – that is longer droughts, more intense rainfall and flooding," he said.

A 2013 study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) projected that for every 1 degree Fahrenheit of carbon dioxide-induced warming, heavy rainfall – defined as months that receive an average of more than about 0.35 of an inch per day – will increase globally by 3.9 percent.

Read More Climate change to hit credit ratings: S&P

Global rainfall is not projected to change much, however, because moderate rainfall will decrease globally by 1.4 percent, it said.

Managing resources

At the same time, Braga is already concerned about how governments are managing water resources, especially in an era of growing urbanization across many developing markets, even before dealing with how climate change will affect resource management on a 50-100 year horizon.

"We are still far behind safe drinking water for most people and lack of sanitation," he said, noting many governments lack the political will to invest in water infrastructure.

According to the United Nations' 2013 Millennium Development Goals Report an estimated 768 million people still drew water from an unimproved source in 2011.

Read More No water, no beer! MillerCoors looks for a silver bullet to fight drought

PhotoAlto/Antoine Arraou | Brand X Pictures | Getty Images

"Concerns about the quality and safety of many improved drinking water sources persist. As a result, the number of people without access to safe drinking water may be two to three times higher than official estimates," the report said.

"More mayors, or local governments, need to be more aware of the importance of investing in water," Braga said. "When you don't have access to safe drinking water, you are spending much more on public health."

Read MoreLloyd's warns on climate change impact


Another water concern comes from growing urbanization. In 2010 a slightly more than half the global population lived in cities according to the World Health Organization. It projects that this will rise to 60 percent by 2030 and 70 percent by 2050.

"It becomes more and more expensive to bring the water from longer distances to large cities," Braga said, noting urban areas are pressured both by supply and demand issues.

"Many cities now they lose like 40-50 percent of their water in the pipes," he said. "They have to invest in reducing these losses. This is one way of increasing the supply."

Read More Warning: Many watersheds in US failing 'stress test'

At the same time, cities must find pricing mechanisms to make people more 'parsimonious' in their use of water, he said.

"This will allow for the governments to delay the need for more infrastructure – more reservoirs and very expensive systems," he said.

By CNBC's Leslie Shaffer. Follow her on Twitter: @LeslieShaffer1