Cameron Hepburn

Valuing water for sustainable development

with Garrick, Hall, Dobson, Damania, Quentin Grafton, Hope, Bark, Boltz, De Stefano, O’Donnell, Matthews & Money, Science358(6366), 1003-1005, 2017.

Achieving universal, safely managed water and sanitation services by 2030, as envisioned by the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, is projected to require capital expenditures of USD 114 billion per year (1). Investment on that scale, along with accompanying policy reforms, can be motivated by a growing appreciation of the value of water. Yet our ability to value water, and incorporate these values into water governance, is inadequate. Newly recognized cascading negative impacts of water scarcity, pollution, and flooding underscore the need to change the way we value water (2). With the UN/World Bank High Level Panel on Water having launched the Valuing Water Initiative in 2017 to chart principles and pathways for valuing water, we see a global opportunity to rethink the value of water. We outline four steps toward better valuation and management (see the box), examine recent advances in each of these areas, and argue that these four steps must be integrated to overcome the barriers that have stymied past efforts.