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Experts demand water be given higher profile at climate talks

Experts gathered in Stockholm for World Water Week argue water issues should be given more importance at the next climate summit in Paris
At the 2015 World Water Week in Stockholm (Image by Stockholm International Water Institute)
At the 2015 World Water Week in Stockholm (Image by Stockholm International Water Institute)

“Global (climate) negotiations are too focused on energy and have failed to recognise water as a whole, but this shouldn’t be the case in Paris,” says Junaid Ahmad, Senior Director of the World Bank’s Water Global Practice.

Water professionals gathered in Stockholm for the 25th annual World Water Week have decided to launch a campaign to pressurize global leaders to focus more on water. “We are not demanding a separate clause or mechanism to be established in the (climate) negotiation text, but a consensus among global leaders on how global action towards water will be taken forward is a must, given  water will be the resource most affected by climate change,” says Benedito Braga, President of World Water Council.

The agreement at the last climate summit – in the Peruvian capital Lima –  failed to even mention water in the final text, much to the chagrin of water experts. They have warned that failing to take water into consideration will be disastrous and will result in a failure to act on mitigation and adaptation to the changing climate.

Climate negotiators agree. President of the Lima summit and Peru’s Minister of State for Environment Manuel Gerardo Pedro Pulgar-Vidal Otálora says, “Water has not gained the relevance it deserves in the climate debate, even though the consequences of a 2 degree world will mainly impact on water. Water plays a crucial role in the transition to a low carbon world
and we can’t talk about adaptation if we don’t talk about water.”

Braga of the World Water Council adds, “Including water resources management projects in the Green Climate Fund, considering water while talking about renewable energy and forest carbon and looking at the water perspective on every aspect of mitigation and adaptation would lead us to a better world.”

Climate finance neglects water

Louise Whiting, senior climate policy analyst at WaterAid, points out the lack of climate finance funding for water. The majority of climate finance goes on emissions reduction activities and water security is not prioritised in national adaptation plans.

Bangladesh is the only country to directly channel climate finance to water projects: 38% (US$190 million) of total climate finance approved are for water related projects, though none of the money has been disbursed yet.

The World Bank report “A Water Secure World for Allthat was published ahead of the World Water Week demands that water should not be kept as a side event during global climate negotiations. “We are in a world of ‘thirsty agriculture’ and ‘thirsty energy’ competing with the needs of ‘thirsty cities’. Simultaneously, climate change may potentially worsen the situation by increasing water stress as well as extreme events reminding us that the water and climate nexus can no longer be a side event at global climate talks,” the report says.

The World Bank, United Nations and several water related institutions have announced that they are forming a high level political coalition of heads of states to raise the profile of water-related issues. “Global actions are possible only if the political sphere is convinced. So we are in the process of forming a high level political coalition,” says Ahmad of the World Bank.

Over 3,000 participants from 140 countries have been discussing issues ranging from technology to transboundary cooperation at World Water Week.

The experts are demanding better coordination with water issues when the UN announces the Sustainable Development Goals next month and with the agreement expected at the Paris climate summit this December, as these will determine global policies in the coming decades. “While aiming to shift from fossil fuels to renewables, a closer look is needed as renewable energy needs water too. Not only drinking water but national and transboundary water issues have to be considered,” says Torgny Holmgren, executive director at the Stockholm International Water Institute.

According to the International Centre for Water Cooperation, around 60% of the world’s freshwater flows are in transboundary rivers and 40% of the world’s population live in the basins of these rivers. There are 276 transboundary river basins, including large ones in South Asia. “The time has indeed come to shift our thinking from looking at water through its traditional components – water supply, sanitation, irrigation or water resources – to placing it at the centre of the development dialogue,” says Ahmad.