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Freshwater stress on small island developing states: population projections and aridity changes at 1.5 and 2 °C

Abstract

Small island developing states (SIDS) face multiple threats from anthropogenic climate change, including potential changes in freshwater resource availability. Due to a mismatch in spatial scale between SIDS landforms and the horizontal resolution of global climate models (GCMs), SIDS are mostly unaccounted for in GCMs that are used to make future projections of global climate change and its regional impacts. Specific approaches are required to address this gap between broad-scale model projections and regional, policy-relevant outcomes. Here, we apply a recently developed methodology that circumvents the GCM limitation of coarse resolution in order to project future changes in aridity on small islands. These climate projections are combined with independent population projections associated with shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs) to evaluate overall changes in freshwater stress in SIDS at warming levels of 1.5 and 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. While we find that future population growth will dominate changes in projected freshwater stress especially toward the end of the century, projected changes in aridity are found to compound freshwater stress for the vast majority of SIDS. For several SIDS, particularly across the Caribbean region, a substantial fraction (~ 25%) of the large overall freshwater stress projected under 2 °C at 2030 can be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5 °C. Our findings add to a growing body of literature on the difference in climate impacts between 1.5 and 2 °C and underscore the need for regionally specific analysis.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the WCRP Working Group on Coupled Modelling and U.S. DOE/PCMDI for CMIP, and thank the climate modeling groups (listed in the “Data, models, and methods” section of this paper) for producing and making available their model output (http://cmip-pcmdi.llnl.gov/cmip5/). K.B.K. and J.P.D. acknowledge the support from the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP). SERDP is the environmental science and technology program of the US Department of Defense (DoD) in partnership with the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). K.B.K. further acknowledges the support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. C.F.S. acknowledges the financial support by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (16_II_148_Global_A_IMPACT).

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Correspondence to Kristopher B. Karnauskas.

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Karnauskas, K.B., Schleussner, CF., Donnelly, J.P. et al. Freshwater stress on small island developing states: population projections and aridity changes at 1.5 and 2 °C. Reg Environ Change 18, 2273–2282 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-018-1331-9

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Keywords

  • Freshwater
  • Islands
  • SIDS
  • Population
  • Aridity
  • Climate
  • Global warming