Water - the blue gold

Water is the basis of all life - but an increasingly scarce resource. Billions in investment might be needed to alleviate the global water shortage.

Not turning off the tap when brushing your teeth can quickly waste around 15 litres of water. That's five litres more than many people in developing countries have per day.[1] Often we don’t appreciate that abundant clean water is a luxury. 

Since water is essential for everyone’s survival but is shared very unequally around the world, the United Nations declared access to it as a human right in 2010.[2]

According to current estimates, 7.8 billion people live on earth[3], and based on the United Nations World Water Report 2020, more than 55 percent lack safe sanitation and around 28 percent do not have access to safe drinking water.[4] This problem is likely to worsen given that the world's population could grow to around 11 billion by 2100.[5]


Freshwater supplies are already limited, because although three-quarters of the earth is covered with water, freshwater accounts for only about 2.5 percent of the so-called global water budget.[6] At the same time, water consumption worldwide has been rising by about one percent per year since the 1980s.[7] As this increase is expected to continue at a similar rate over the next three decades, freshwater supplies are likely to come under increasing pressure.

In addition to population growth and increased urbanisation, changing middle-class lifestyles are also responsible. Rising consumption of dairy and meat products brings with it increased demand for water for agriculture.[8]

Dec 12, 2019 ESG

The global implications of water shortages

Population growth, urbanization and voracious water use bring hazards and opportunities in sectors such as agriculture and utilities.
Dec 07, 2020 ESG

The other sort of liquidity

Water has become an increasingly important factor for performance across sectors, sub-sectors and companies.

Freshwater consumption per sector[9]

Less than ten percent of the world's water is consumed by private households or at the municipal level. Agriculture, energy production and mining are the largest consumers of water.[10]


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Climate change has consequences for the water supply of the environment and people. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) expects global warming to worsen heat waves and droughts in many regions of the world.[11] Through melting glaciers, rising sea levels, heavy rainfall and flooding, climate change is already visible in many areas.[12]

Water scarcity is, without question, one of humanity’s greatest social challenges. Substantial investments are likely needed to tackle it. To alleviate the risks, the World Water Report calls for two complementary strategies to be implemented: "On the one hand, adapting water use to climate change, and on the other, climate protection through sustainable water management."[13]

According to the United Nations, annual spending would need to triple to as much as $114 billion in the coming decade.[14] Only then will the goals set for 2030 - safe and affordable drinking water as well as adequate sanitation and hygiene for all people - be achievable.[15] However, most governments cannot raise these large sums on their own. Private companies also need to be involved.

Jan 20, 2021 ESG

DWS and WWF research highlights why we can no longer afford to neglect water risk

DWS and WWF, the largest independent conservation organization in the world, have co-authored an article highlighting the importance of underpinning investments with a clearer approach to water risk and opportunities.
Nov 13, 2020 Sustainability

Water - investing in "blue gold"

H2O is now a global business. More and more companies are active in the water sector, which is awash with defensive characteristics and offers the chance of stable returns.

DWS analysis shows that companies with high water risk are typically found in the energy, building materials, food and beverage, and independent power producer sectors. Companies with low water risk are usually in financial, healthcare and communication services, and traffic and transportation. Water risks could provide opportunities in industrial gases, construction markets and materials, speciality chemicals, and renewable energy.

The potential water risk and opportunities may be a consideration with portfolio allocations.

45% of global GDP and 40% of global grain production will be at risk from water scarcity by 2050. [16]

Regulatory pressure on companies might increase via price charges for water use and pollution.

The consequence for companies might be higher production costs and declining profitability.

„Companies that cover the entire value chain around water appear particularly promising.“

Paul Buchwitz, Fundmanager of DWS SDG Global Equities.

Focus on: World Water Day

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Fluid thinking: why water is becoming the next major ESG theme

For professional Clients Only.

Learn more and register now for the online Expert Session ‘Water risk across asset classes’
10 June, 2 pm CEST

View program & register here

$1.5 trillion

The global gross domestic product of the blue economy was estimated by the OECD in 2010 at $1.5 trillion and is expected to grow to $3 trillion by 2030, with ocean-related industries predicted to grow faster than the established economy. [17]

8 million tons

Every year 8 million tons of plastic end up in the world's oceans. A large part comes from the 10 largest rivers in the world. [18]

$2.5 trillion

The annual "gross ocean product" of $2.5 trillion is so large that it would rank the Blue Economy eighth among the world's largest economies. [19]

Jun 01, 2021 ESG

Blue economy: A new twist in an old tragedy

Markets and policymakers are finally waking up to the challenges and opportunities of protecting marine ecosystems, while simultaneously promoting sustainable development.
Jun 02, 2021 Press

DWS Concept ESG Blue Economy: equity fund focuses on ocean protection

DWS & Healthy Seas - protecting the oceans and their creatures

DWS is increasing its commitment to protecting the oceans. Since last year, we have been supporting Healthy Seas, an organisation dedicated to ridding the world's oceans of discarded fishing nets and other marine litter, thereby saving the lives of countless sea creatures. Healthy Seas has made a huge impact by conducting numerous recovery missions in a wide variety of waters. To ensure that the hunt for discarded fishing nets and other marine litter can continue, DWS has donated funds that have made it possible for Healthy Seas to purchase its first own dedicated boat. This has made Healthy Seas more flexible and independent, enabling it to increase significantly the number of salvage missions in the future. Raising public awareness about the deadly problem of lost or intentionally discarded ocean fishing nets is another part of the organisation’s important mission, which DWS is proud to support.


Saving marine life from ghostnets

More topics

Dec 06, 2020 Sustainability

Climate change: turning it into an investment opportunity

Climate change poses many risks - but for companies and investors working to counter it, it could also offer a number of opportunities.
Oct 11, 2021 ESG

Oceans & Climate – Exploring the Nexus

The world's climate scientists and recent extreme weather have shown that even our current worst estimates of climate scenarios are proving too optimistic.
Sep 24, 2021 ESG

Waste not, want not

Much too much food is still being wasted globally. This is an unbearable situation for many reasons. Investors have plenty of incentives to address the problem.
Aug 06, 2021 ESG

From victims to ecological defenders

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an opportunity to reflect on how to help indigenous communities become even stronger guardians of biodiversity, nature and the world’s climate.

1. https://www.biggreensmile.de/article/interessante-fakten-uber-wasser.aspx

2. https://www.menschenrechtsabkommen.de/recht-auf-sauberes-wasser-1122/

3. https://www.dsw.org/weltbevoelkerung/

4. https://www.unesco.de/kultur-und-natur/wasser-und-ozeane/un-weltwasserbericht-2020-wasser-und-klimawandel

5. https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/1717/umfrage/prognose-zur-entwicklung-der-weltbevoelkerung/

6. UN Chief warns of widespread ills from global water crisis (March 2018); https://www.apnews.com/278d9a84cff74c3a996c88fa2d8d69f3

7. https://www.unesco.de/sites/default/files/2020-03/UN-Weltwasserbericht2020-web.pdf

8. https://www.oxfam.de/system/files/oxfam_wasserkrisen-durch-klimawandel-web.pdf

9. Global Footprint Network (Mai 2019). Advancing the science of sustainability database.

10. https://www.oxfam.de/system/files/oxfam_wasserkrisen-durch-klimawandel-web.pdf

11. https://www.unesco.de/kultur-und-natur/wasser-und-ozeane/un-weltwasserbericht-2020-wasser-und-klimawandel

12. https://www.bmz.de/de/themen/wasser/klimawandel/index.html

13. https://www.unesco.de/sites/default/files/2020-03/UN-Weltwasserbericht2020-web.pdf

14. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2016/02/12/more-money-and-better-service-delivery-a-winning-combination-for-achieving-drinking-water-and-sanitation-targets

15. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2016/02/12/more-money-and-better-service-delivery-a-winning-combination-for-achieving-drinking-water-and-sanitation-targets

16. Boretti, Alberto and Lorenzo Rosa (2019) Reassessing the projections of the World Water Development Report. Nature Partner Journals: Clean Water (2:15)

17. Source: The Ocean Economy in 2030, OECD, https://www.oecd.org/environment/the-ocean-economy-in-2030-9789264251724-en.htm, As of: 27. April 2016

18. Source: https://www.unep.org/interactive/beat-plastic-pollution/.

19. Source: DWS International GmbH, WWF, Reviving the Oceans Economy: The Case for Action - 2015 (WWF), https://www.worldwildlife.org/publications/reviving-the-oceans-economy-the-case-for-action-2015; As of May 2015

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