Saturday, August 29, 2009

A matter of asking 'who cares about water?'

We live, it seems, in a constant state of crisis. It is unclear if we have successfully weathered the international economic crisis or our national housing crisis. The energy crisis has been with us so long we almost take it for granted. There is scientific consensus that the global climate crisis is real and getting more serious each day we delay in taking meaningful actions to mitigate it. And for some time now scientists have warned that water quality and supply are the next major crises looming on the horizon.

In fact, these phenomena are all intimately interrelated. This is both alarming and reassuring. Alarming because it suggests that many of Spaceship Earth's life support systems are dysfunctional. Reassuring because we know that a relatively small number of systemic solutions (trimtabs) capable of synergistically addressing many if not all of these pressing problems. (GW)

Water experts pour on pressure for Copenhagen deal

25 August 2009

At the World Water Week conference, held last week (16-22 August) in Sweden, political leaders and experts called for water to be a key part of the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December.


The annual event, organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute, acts as a forum for the exchange of a international range of views and experiences from scientific, business, policy and civil society sectors.

The week's discussion culminated in the 'Stockholm Statement', which sends a message to the member states of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) - part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - "that importance of water must be properly and adequately reflected within the COP-15 agreement, and in processes beyond".

In a statement addressed to global representatives negotiating a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, conference participants agreed that "water is a key medium through which climate change impacts will be felt and it is therefore central to planning and adaptation surrounding climate change".

The interconnected nature of water in economic, social and environmental issues is highlighted in the document, which insists that a firm and fair agreement is "crucial in order to secure future water resource availability". This opinion reinforces an earlier message sent to world leaders at the World Water Forum meeting in March (EurActiv 20/03/09).

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts that by 2030, 47% of world population will be living in areas of high water stress, if no further action is taken.

In the conference's opening address, Gunilla Carlsson, Swedish minister for international development cooperation, said that adaptation to climate change was particularly important in developing countries, as they are "more dependent on and exposed to the vagaries of the weather".

Sweden, current holder of the EU presidency, is putting adaptation to climate change high on the agenda of the upcoming UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December this year, Carlsson said, adding that "the hydrological cycle is an integral part of the climate system" and that "adaptation therefore naturally evolves around water".

The EU has begun to shift its focus on the issue of climate change adaptation to put more emphasis on water policies, but has previously been criticised for lacking a global vision on the subject (Euractiv 06/04/09).

An example of action within the EU comes from Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, which has taken various water management initiatives of the River Po. Remo Tavernari, policy officer at the region's representation in Brussels, told EurActiv that the river basin "has experienced a dramatic water-decrease since 2003".

In response, enhanced cooperation between the different institutions and economic sectors involved has allowed Emilia Romagna to put "monitoring, conservation and water-demand control amongst its priorities" and a "more proactive, preventive approach" at the centre of its river basin management.

The Stockholm experts also emphasise the importance of more research into the vulnerability of water resources to climate change and additional funding to support the development of adaptive strategies for vulnerable groups and eco-systems.

On the controversial topic of who should bear the cost of climate change in terms of prevention and adaptation, the conference argued for the initial financing of vulnerable, low-income countries to mitigate effects already underway. It underlined this should then be followed up by the establishment of a "well-resourced mechanism for funding adaptation as part of ongoing climate negotiations".


In its working paper on climate change and water, which accompanies the White Paper on Adapting to Climate Change published April 2009, the European Commission makes plain that "there is clear evidence that climate change will have a significant impact on water quantity and quality".

The 3rd UN World Water Development Report, published this year, estimates that 90% of the three billion people who are expected to boost world population by 2050 will be in developing countries. Many of these will be in regions already experiencing water stress, where the current population does not have sustainable access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

"Water quality and its sustainable use is an urgent global problem. There is a pressing need for clear principles and tools for achieving and demonstrating progress towards sustainable water management," said Anne-Léonore Boffi, assistant project manager for water at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

Her comments coincided with the launch of a new report, 'Water for Business: Initiatives Guiding Sustainable Water Management in the Private Sector', jointly developed by WBCSD and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

"Many initiatives have emerged around sustainable water management for business. This is a positive signal that water is moving up the corporate agenda. We aim to help companies identify which initiative will best suit their needs," said James Griffiths, managing director for sustainable forest products, water and ecosystems at the WBCSD.

"It is true that Europe is not showing its great potential as global leader on water issues. But Europe does have a vision (Water Vision for Europe - 2030) and a strategy (Aquawareness) to achieve sustainable and effective water management. It's just a matter of asking 'who cares (about water)?" argues Lucilla Minelli, communications and project officer the European Water Partnership, a Brussels-based NGO.


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