Water Being Overlooked in Negotiations

Posted on 07 December 2010 by admin

Mokoro canoes on the Okavango Delta. Credit: Wikicommons

Mokoro canoes on the Okavango Delta. Credit: Wikicommons

By Mantoe Phakathi

CANCÚN, Dec 7, 2010, (IPS/TerraViva) – One more thing to add to the checklist of requirement for a sound global agreement on climate change: water.

“In Africa we have seen that climate change is manifested in water,” said Bai-Mass Taal, executive secretary of the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW), addressing a side event at the United Nations Climate Conference in Cancún. “We either have too much water in floods, or the scarcity of the natural resource in droughts.”

However, said Taal, water is not explicitly mentioned in the text of a treaty to respond to global climate change being debated by representatives of nearly 200 countries.

He said water security needs to be integrated at all levels, if the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is serious about coming up with comprehensive solutions to the problems posed by global warming.

“The United Nations has declared water as a human right – what does that mean in the African context where the resource is getting more scarce every day with climate change worsening the situation?” said Taal.

Africa is not alone in facing growing challenges around water. At the same event, Dr Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, vice-president of the Asian Development Bank, highlighted growing demand for decreasing water resources in Asia, where a shortfall of sustainable supply of as much as 40 percent is predicted by 2030.

“Shortages of accessible freshwater are being experienced for domestic water supply and sanitation which spill over to other sectors, constraining energy generation, reducing agricultural production and food supply while threatening public health and regional security,” said Schaefer-Preuss.

Asia is already experiencing more frequent, more intense floods and droughts. Rising sea levels threaten 450 million people who lie in low-lying coastal zones.

“Sea level rise can directly damage coastal infrastructure,” she said. “It can also reduce water security through salt water contamination of coastal aquifers, affecting both agriculture and urban water supply.”

In Asia and Africa, water scarcity places an additional burden on women who travel every-longer distances to find water for households; the additional time and labour can lead to girls missing out on education.

Making the case for water

The Water and Climate Coalition (WCC) is a body pressing for water resources management to be included at the heart of the global response to climate change, which counts NGOs, U.N. agencies, community-based organisations, business and trade unions as members.

“We need an establishment of a work programme on water and climate under the UNFCCC,” said Anders Berntell, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, one of the WCC’s member organisations.

Some progress is being made, as six countries have called for water to be tabled as an agenda item in the technical discussions under the UNFCCC.

But there is also powerful dissent. Developed countries feel water should not form part of the negotiations but must be incorporated into adaptation measures.

“The negotiations are complicated as they are,” said Aart van der Horst, the senior policy officer of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He said creating a new focus on water would only further complicate negotiations that require the approval of all parties to the convention. “Let’s stop creating so many windows; but let’s work with what we have to allow countries to come up with adaptation strategies specific to their needs.”

Van der Horst said addressing water security can readliy be funded through adaptation finance already being discussed, such as the 380 million dollar fund for Least Developed Countries. More money will be available from the much larger funding already pledged under the Copenhagen Accord, or from an adaptation fund yet to be agreed as part of the UNFCCC process itself.

“Let’s keep it simple and work with what we have towards adaptation,” he said.

Taal acknowledged there is a deadlock between developing countries and richer nations over water. “Unfortunately, we say water is a resource and it needs a special focus.”

The call is to recognise water in climate change negotiations as both a transmitter of the impacts of global warming, and a key vehicle for strengthening social, environmental and economic resilience to them.

“We believe that water and its management can offer a unifying focus for global, regional as well as national co-operation on adaptation to climate change,” said Dr Anna Grobicki, executive secretary of another WCC member, the Global Water Partnership, at a meeting last year.” Investments in integrated water resources development and management are investments in adaptation.”


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