Global Water Partnership contributed the article below to Outreach, a publication of the Stakeholder Forum. It was written by Steven Downey, GWP Head of Communications, and its key messages are based on GWP’s Rio+20 Policy Brief.
No one knows what will end up in the Rio+20 Outcome Document. But those of us in the water world were pretty excited when we saw the Zero Draft. It said:
“We renew our commitment made in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) regarding the development and implementation of integrated water resources management and water efficiency plans…. We encourage cooperation initiatives for water resources management in particular through capacity development, exchange of experiences, best practices and lessons learned, as well as sharing appropriate environmentally sound technologies and know-how.”
Who could ask for more? But watching the ‘informal informals’ can be depressing, as country after country slices and dices the text, making us wonder if we’ll lose the good stuff while they fight over the small stuff. What will remain? Who knows, but if you look at the list of ‘priority/key/thematic issues’ nearly every one of them is related to water — making its management a pre-condition for meeting those challenges (health, energy, food, education, disaster risk reduction, poverty eradication, etc.).
It’s likely that governments will be urged (yet again) to ‘accelerate progress towards water access and management.’ There are the usual fights over water supply, sanitation and the ‘human right to water’, but no one seems to disagree about the importance of improving water resources management.
This is a no-brainer. Economic prosperity depends on – not exclusively, of course – the sustainable management of water resources. There isn’t enough space to go into a history of how harnessing the productive aspects of water (and minimising its destructive elements) contributed to the economic development of the now-developed world. It did, but at a price: environmental destruction. And it took the environmental movement – which some might claim was born, internationally, at the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972 – to get the world thinking about ending the sacrifice of ecosystems in the name of economic growth.
We do learn from the mistakes of the past because, today, the goal is ‘to balance the imperatives of robust economic growth and the needs of a growing population against the ecological necessity to conserve our planet’s most precious resources — land, air and water’, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a 23rd May 2012 New York Times op-ed piece.
So if the leaders who meet in Rio really want to have an impact on creating ‘The Future We Want’, then the following needs to be achieved in relation to water management:
Water security: It is crucial that the Conference outcomes include water as a part of a green growth agenda. Continued effort is needed to improve cross-sectoral integration: in particular the linkages between water, food and energy. This is not a task for water professionals only; it is a task for all who use the resource.
Institutional effectiveness: Coordination and cohesion between the different layers of authority – international, national and sub-national – are critical for effective decision-making. Institutional reforms and integration must proceed in parallel with, and mutually reinforce investment in, sustainable infrastructure and protection of the natural environment. In order to achieve green growth, institutions have to be strengthened and partnerships formed, to ensure collaborative solutions. Particular focus is needed on regional cooperation between states on transboundary water resources development and management.
Integrated approaches: The positive response to the call for integrated water resources management and water efficiency plans, as agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002, needs to be translated into implementation with increased focus on water productivity and climate adaptation to ensure every drop of water contributes as much as possible to inclusive economic growth. The Conference should adopt a resolution calling for each country to develop, by 2015, its specific targets and timeframes for preparing and implementing a programme of action and financing strategy to implement integrated water resources management plans.
Future Strategy: There is a three year window from Rio (2012) to the end of the MDGs (2015). The Conference should kick off a process for setting a green growth agenda through to 2030. Green growth requires ensuring water security for future generations, and providing solutions that achieve more growth with less resource use.
Is that too much to ask?