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Climate and Water at COP24: Will We Catch the Current or Be Trapped in the Eddies?

KATOWICE, Poland

OOSKAnews Voices is a series of guest “opinion columns” written by senior participants in different parts of the international water community.

In this article, John H. Matthews, co-founder and secretariat coordinator for the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA), which is chaired by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and the World Bank, reflects on this month's 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the evolving recognition and presence of "water" as a voice in the UNFCCC.

Matthews’ work integrates technical and policy knowledge for climate adaptation for practical implementation. John has worked globally on these issues since 2007 and has authored many publications on adaptive management for water infrastructure and ecosystems. He has a PhD in ecology from the University of Texas and is based in the United States.
 
I’ve just left COP24 in Katowice, Poland. The UNFCCC COP in Paris three years ago had the Eiffel Tower in its logo - today, we are still living in the shadow of Paris in the negotiations.

I’ve been tracking water in the COP process since COP15 in 2009. The period in between has seen vast changes in the recognition and presence of “water” as a voice in the UNFCCC. Back then, my first impression was that everyone was talking about water impacts but no one seemed to realize that they were constantly referring to water management decisions. Water was present but the water community was invisible.

The next year - 2010 - was the Cancun, Mexico, conference. Water was covered in a single unofficial side event organized by the World Bank; water was figuratively outside of the COP — but literally as well, some 20 km away from the negotiations. But word was leaking out. The message that climate adaptation for people and ecosystems was largely about water began to permeate the COP.

The 2015 Paris Agreement marked a huge transition. Overall, we had a clear framework for talking about both emissions and adaptation at national and global levels. Although water was not named in the Paris Agreement, the water community for the first time began communicating with largely one voice through #ClimateIsWater, while the French, Moroccans, Germans, Dutch, and others sponsored the first UNFCCC Water Action Day to recognize how the UNFCCC is in many ways really the first global water and climate convention — water for clean energy, for carbon sequestration, and for effective and enduring climate adaptation.

Making Polish Sausage at COP24: How Much Can We See?

This year - last Friday - we celebrated the third year of having water formally engaged, with extensive water events looking at climate mitigation and adaptation and how the water community can help achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Many of our messages from 2009 and 2010 have become truisms - almost throwaway lines.

But the Paris shadow is long and dark, at least in places. So far, negotiators have not agreed on the urgency of action. The US and many Persian Gulf states have effectively opposed endorsement of the IPCC’s 1.5 degree report. The role of climate change in human migration and displacement remains deeply controversial and sensitive. And many countries are struggling with meeting and clarifying their national goals - the Nationally Determined Contributions to global targets, or NDCs - even as they must revise their first five-year targets to prepare for new, more hopefully more rigorous targets in 2020. The broad aspirations of Paris are becoming more pressing and also need to become more specific and strict. That transition is the challenge now facing negotiators this week.

Water too is facing new challenges. I was the only “sectoral” specialist to speak in an official UNFCCC event on water and finance. Most of the other speakers celebrated new finance vehicles for clean energy and mobilizing large pools of capital for climate mitigation. Only a few also mentioned adaptation.

My turn came to speak. I began by stating that the discussion had largely focused on the quantity of investment, but we had said almost nothing about the quality of that investment. Systemic risks were present in our investment frameworks if we did not recognize that the deep uncertainties in water management for both mitigation and adaptation threatened our ability to achieve most climate goals. Only within the past few years had the water community had only just begun to coalesce and promote methods to address these uncertainties, but few financial institutions recognized these concerns as significant issues. Thus, the finance community needed to use funding vehicles to signal to broader markets and decision makers that our long-term climate security and investment paradigm must float on a pool of resilient water resource for robustness and flexibility.

My points, however, were not heard.

I was silenced - my microphone turned off by the chair before I had finished my talking points. The moderator looked harshly at me: “These are not investment issues and thus not relevant to this discussion.”

Water still has some way to flow, some opposition to erode.

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EU Supports Turkmenistan Capacity Building

ASHGABAT

On December 5-6, Ashgabat hosted a workshop and a meeting of an Inter-sectoral Working Group on the development of multi-sector investment projects for achieving water, energy and food security in Turkmenistan within the European Union funded Nexus project, the EU Liaison Office in Turkmenistan reported.

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Veolia Exec Fauchon Is WWC Prez Again

KATOWICE, Poland

The Board of Governors of the World Water Council (WWC) has unanimously elected Loïc Fauchon as its new president, succeding Brazilian Benedito Braga. Fauchon was previously WWC president from 2005 to 2012, and has now been re-elected in 2018. Fauchon is also president of Eaux de Marseille in France, a subsidiary of Veolia, the international water and waste conglomerate.The returning WWC president will have an opportunity to describe WWC priorities December 7 at COP24 in Poland at a special water event where he is scheduled to offer concluding remarks.

WaterAid Calls For COP Recognition Of WASH As Part Of Climate Change Adaptation

KATOWICE, Poland

Sudan, Niger and Pakistan are the top 3 countries with the most threatened water supply, based on new analysis by Water Aid of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative measures of access to water, climate patterns and water usage rates.

$400 Million USD For Water Infrastructure In Two Romanian Counties

CLUJ

A new European project worth more than EUR 355 million, which targets the development of the water and wastewater infrastructure in the counties of Cluj and Salaj, is ready to kick off after the authorities signed the financing contract.

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New UN Initiative To Save The Aral Sea

NEW YORK NY, United States

The UN Human Security Unit (HSU), in cooperation with Uzbekistan, Japan, Nigeria and Norway, has launched a "Multi-Partner Human Security Trust Fund" (MPHSTF) for the Aral Sea Region. The initiative marks a “new chapter for communities in the region,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said November 27.

Increased World Bank Commitment Gives Equal Emphasis To Climate Adaptation, Mitigation

Washington DC, United States

As the world’s governments meet in Katowice, Poland for COP24, The World Bank Group has announced a new set of climate targets for 2021-2025 with a key priority described by the Bank as boosting support for climate adaptation, recognizing that millions of people across the world are already facing the severe consequences of more extreme weather events.

Brazil: Mining Giant Will Fight Multi-Billion Dollar Lawsuit Over Samarco Mine Dam Disaster

BRASILIA, Brazil

The world's largest mining company, Anglo-Australian giant BHP, has said that it will fight a multi billion dollar damages lawsuit filed on behalf of 240,000 Brazilians affected by the 2015 tailings dam failure at the Samarco iron ore mine BHP operated in the state of Minas Gerais - Brazil's worst environmental disaster.

Erik Solheim Resigns As UNEP Chief After Travel Expenses Audit; Joyce Myusa Steps Up As Acting Head

NAIROBI, Kenya

The Executive Director of UN Environment (UNEP) has resigned after an audit of official travel by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services criticized the agency for “a culture of scant regard for internal controls and existing rules” on the use of public funds. Tanzanian microbiologist and World Bank alumna Joyce Msuya last week assumed the role of acting head of UNEP.

US Climate Assessment Report Warns Of Water Security Risks; Trump: "I don't believe it"

Washington DC, United States

The United States released its fourth National Climate Assessment Report last week – and it’s not looking good for water security in the North American republic.

The Congressionally mandated Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. More than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the US National Academy of Sciences.

The authors report that the quality and quantity of water available for use by people and ecosystems across the country are being affected by climate change, increasing risks and costs to agriculture, energy production, industry, recreation, and the environment.

The administration of Donald Trump has come under fire for attempting to “bury” the report by releasing it November 23, during the US Thanksgiving holiday period. The famously climate-change-denying President subsequently told reporters that he doesn’t believe his own government’s climate change findings. “I’ve seen it, I’ve read some of it, and it’s fine,” he said outside the White House November 26. “I don’t believe it".

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EU Flood Risk Audit Calls For Improved Planning And Protection

LUXEMBOURG, Luxembourg

The European Court of Auditors has completed its assessment of Member State compliance with the EU Flood Directive of 2007, concluding that there has been progress in assessing the risks of floods but that planning and implementation of flood risk management and protection is lagging. In addition, the auditors suggest that there are serious issues with proper allocation of funding.

Water Diplomacy Conclusions Adopted By Council Of The European Union

BRUSSELS, Belgium

The Council of the European Union, which represents the executive governments of the EU's member states, adopted a number of conclusions on "Water Diplomacy" November 19.

EBRD and EIB To Fund Minsk Wastewater Management Systems Improvement

Minsk, Belarus

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) are to extend loans to the city of Minsk, Belarus to finance modern wastewater management systems.

As Terrorists Weaponize Water, A Strategy For A Safer America?

WASHINGTON DC

Water terrorism is a growing threat that won’t be defeated on the battlefield. Access to safe and secure water across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America is important in its own right, of course, but water security across the globe is also key to U.S. national security interests.

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OOSKAnews Talks – Charles Iceland, Director, Global and National Water Initiatives with the World Resources Institute’s Food, Forests, and Water Programs.

WASHINGTON DC, United States

OOSKAnews caught up with Charles Iceland this week to talk about global water risk, threats, conflict, migration and food security.

In conversation with OOSKAnews' David Duncan, Iceland expands upon the “Issue Brief” he co-authored this year, “Water, Security and Conflict”, a paper for professionals in the defense, diplomacy, and development fields.

Where will the next water war erupt? Why are the US and Russia hold-outs over new water-conflict monitoring? Are Central-American refugee families making their way to the US because of water stress? Are we all going to hell in a handbasket?

Here is the full conversation (audio).

The United Nations Security Council has recently turned more attention to the relationship between water risks and conflict within and between countries. At an October 26 meeting organized by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Security Council members and UN member countries convened on the topic of water, peace and security with a goal to explore ways for the UN system to systematically address water scarcity as a root cause of conflict. 

In a recent blog, Charles Iceland described an example of a promising emerging technology from the Water, Peace, and Security Partnership (WPS), which is developing an early warning system for water-related conflicts which will use water risk indicators like drought severity and access to clean water, together with social, political, economic and demographic data to predict which conflicts may arise in the next 12 months.

"The system could help countries identify water and conflict hotspots early so they can take risk-mitigating measures, such as diverting water from farms to cities, or prioritizing storage in reservoirs. It could also help bodies like the UN and others in the development, diplomacy and defense communities to alert countries of coming crises and provide support".

"Better data and early-warning systems can inform smarter water decisions, reduce the risk of conflict, and improve the lives of many. It will require action not only from the UN Security Council, but all branches of the UN system, member states, NGOs and academics. Water needs to be viewed as a human right that underpins almost all development efforts. The UN Security Council can provide a rallying cry for preventive action, and call upon the UN system for coordinated responses, including strengthening the institutions that manage water in vulnerable countries".

"After all, peace is not just the absence of conflict. It is also the ability to handle potential conflict by peaceful means, such as effective risk-reduction strategies for water scarcity".

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