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Bringing Water to the Climate Change Agenda

Hannah Kett

The importance of water for the climate change agenda was highlighted this week by those participating in the "Dialogs on Water and Climate Change" The dialogs, which happened last week, discussed the intersection of water and climate change, highlighting the importance of good water management in talks of adapting to climate change. The conclusions will be presented tomorrow at a high-level meeting.

The importance of water for the climate change agenda was highlighted this week by those participating in the “Dialogs on Water and Climate Change” The dialogs, which happened last week, discussed the intersection of water and climate change, highlighting the importance of good water management in talks of adapting to climate change. The conclusions will be presented tomorrow at a high-level meeting.

Note: This article will be updated as information from tomorrow’s high-level meeting becomes available.

7 December 2010| CANCUN | “This is the first time that water issues will be addressed in a climate change COP,” said José Luis Luege Tamargo,Director General of the National Water Commission (CONAGUA). “No mitigation strategy will be successful if the perspectives on water do not become one of the guiding principles in the climate change agenda.”

During COP16, CONAGUA hosted the first Dialogs on Water and Climate Change in Cancun (D4WCC) with the aim of highlighting the importance of water in climate change discussions.   The goal of the dialogs was “to shed new light on the importance water management for climate adaptation.”

“Investing in water resources can endure climate change even more without necessarily having to increase expenses. Good water-related policies, laws and regulations can have a huge impact without a large financial cost,” said one of the DW4CC participants, Julia Bucknell, Head of the Water Anchor at the World Bank.

Back in September, at World Water Week in Stockholm, organizations discussed the intersection of water and climate change.   Beyond informing individuals of the threat that climate change posed to water resources, the presenters looked ahead to Cancun, sharing their goals for the conference.

During COP16, the D4WCC included presentations by a number of organizations and spokespeople, including the World Bank, members of the Secretariat of the Water and Climate Coalition and the Global Water Partnership.  

The first session of the D4WCC ended on Friday, and while no official document was released regarding the conclusions, a high-level meeting on Wednesday included the concluding thoughts from the Dialogs, including key priority issues that were identified by the water community during the talks.

What was expected at Cancun?

Though the topic of water is not absent from the climate change text, Bucknell said that current references lack something.   “The specifics are sometimes missing, or they fail to emphasize some crucial things or they oversimplify to the point of being wrong,” she said during a presentation at World Water Week. “Some investments frequently proposed and financed in the name of climate change adaptation would not just waste money but worsen the problem they are setting out to solve.”

The UNFCCC, according to her presentation, is an important instrument in tackling larger challenges.   Solutions to these challenges would include increased storage, intensifying water management in agriculture and protecting freshwater ecosystems.

Beyond the specific challenges, Bucknell highlighted the need for a single message in Cancun: “We need to engage and bring consensus.”

The Water and Climate Coalition also highlighted the possibilities for Cancun while in Stockholm.   The Coalition is a group of international organizations with a vision that “Water is placed at the heart of global policy responses to climate change.”   The member organizations include the World Wildlife Fund, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Freshwater Action Network and the Global Water Partnership.

In a presentation that was repeated last Friday in Cancun, Hannah Stoddart of the Water and Climate Coalition highlighted specific goals for the UNFCCC negotiations, discussing everything from possible words and definitions for the negotiation text to the finance necessary for implementing such water management.

The Coalition’s key asks for COP16 included the establishment of a work programme, the recognition of the importance of water management for climate adaptation; and assurance that the Nairobi Work Programme would be respected in any final decisions.

But the main focus for the Coalition leading up to Cancun was the proposal of a work programme under the UNFCCC.   The work programme would allow for continued discussion on the relationship between water and climate change; include an expert panel; enhance co-ordination and knowledge sharing; and guide “the development and agreement of normative global principles and policy guidelines on water and climate change.”

D4WCC conclusions

While a formal agreement is yet to be made, there is optimism among the D4WCC participants about the progress of the discussions.   Many of the participants believe that through these dialogs, a bridge has been built between the water and climate change communities.   For Stoddart, this is a positive sign that the water perspective will be included in future climate change agendas.

According to Henk Van Schaik, the International Program Coordinator of the Co-operative Programme on Water and Climate, the discussions at the D4WCC identified 5 key issues moving forward.   They include:

  1. The need for the UNFCCC to acknowledge the capital importance of changes in the water cycle
  2. The continued assurance by the UNFCCC that development plans take into account water-related risks.
  3. The provision of resources by the UNFCCC to fulfill the second issue, including vulnerability assessments and methodologies to reduce risks and financial support.
  4. UNFCCC assurance that customized hydro-meterological information is available to the public
  5. The need for lobbying to ensure the integration of multi-purpose dams in the framework of clean development mechanisms.

While the goal is the inclusion water concerns in the agenda for the UNFCCC framework, José Luis Luege said that adaptation must begin regardless.   “In terms of water, adaptation begins at home, with specific actions and with the involvement of everyone,” he says.

At the D4WCC, the participants saw this in action through the presentation of a paper discussing the water adaptation policy in Latin America and the Caribbean.   The document is meant to provide public policy makers with information for making decisions on water and climate change, according to Maureen Ballestero, the chair of the Global Water Partnership Costa Rica.   The key points can be found here.

On Monday, in the second session of the D4WCC, participants discussed the role of the private sector.

On Wednesday, the conclusion of the D4WCC took the form of a high-level meeting that included representatives from the global water, environment, investment and development communities.   The speakers discussed the importance of water in the climate change agenda, the need for stronger institutions and further research as well as other topics dealing with the water communities ability to deal with water change challenges.

Happenings outside of the Dialogs

Outside of the DW4CC, six countries talked in support of a call for water to be put on the climate change agenda.   The call, put forward by Ecuodor and Sudan, was made on December 4 during the closing session of SBSTA, the body which provides scientific and technical advice to the climate convention.

The call, welcomed by the Water and Climate Coalition, highlighted the impact that climate change will have on water resources.   The Representative from Ecuador, Undersecretary Tarsicio Granizo said that the issue had been previously neglected at the intergovernmental level and should be discussed at greater length in the future.

On Monday, December 6, a side event took place that discussed the importance of good water management in development in the context of adapting to climate change.   As the description says, “In the interests of long-term water security, the integration of climate change, development and water agendas is crucial.”

Looking Ahead

The final outcomes from Cancun about water and a whole host of other issues are yet to be known, but for those in the water community, the amount of discussion that occurred at the COP assures continued progress.

“We have begun the construction of an Agenda for Water and Climate Change, a process that must continue in the future,” says Polioptro Martí­nez Austria, the Director General of the Mexican Institute of Water Technology (IMTA).

This article was updated at 3:25 on December 8, 2010 to include the events of Monday and Wednesday

Hannah Kett is an editorial assistant with Ecosystem Marketplace and a free-lance journalist focused on the non-profit sector.  She can be reached at hkett@ecosystemmarketplace.com.

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