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Water Should Connect Climate Change Mitigation, Adaptation Efforts: AGWA

LIMA, Peru

Water should be the “glue” the holds together climate change mitigation and adaptation policies, but is not getting the attention it deserves in climate discussions, according to John Matthews, Secretariat Coordinator at the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA), a group of regional and global development banks, government agencies and ministries, NGOs, and the private sector focused on managing water resources in a sustainable way.

“There are many water-related organizations -- including groups like AGWA and SIWI (Stockholm International Water Institute) -- who have felt for some time that water has been treated in an unconstructive way by the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change),” Matthews told OOSKAnews via email this week.

“In AGWA, we believe that the success of both climate mitigation and climate adaptation demands ‘coherence,’ which we define as the recognition that resilient, robust water resources management across sectors (energy, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, cities and agriculture) is essential. And it is also quite lacking in the current UNFCCC institutions, programs and policies.”

While this has been long understood by those in the water community, those outside the water sector are not as aware, he said.

However, “we have made some distance in raising awareness,” including during the COP20 climate talks that concluded today in Lima, Peru.

AGWA held two side events at COP20, and released a short video produced by engineering firm Arup that showcased how important water is in climate change dialogue.

The events included high-level speakers from SIWI, climate ambassadors from Sweden and the Netherlands, ministerial staff from the National Water Commission of Mexico and Peru’s National Water Authority (ANA), high-level members of the French Water Partnership and the French government, and Rajendra Pachauri, who heads the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

However, Matthews said he was still concerned about the way the UNFCCC delineates water as just another sector, much like energy and agriculture, rather than as a connector across sectors and between mitigation and adaptation. He pointed out that unlike other sectors, water adaptation will be significantly affected by many climate mitigation techniques.

For example, increasing use of clean energy solutions like biofuels and hydropower will require a lot of water.

“Given the sensitivity of the water cycle to climate shifts … a shift to clean energy sources may actually be challenging to maintain and deliver over medium to long timescales,” he said. “In effect, climate mitigation requires a strong dose of climate adaptation for insurance purposes. And indeed, the false separation between climate mitigation and climate adaptation in UNFCCC processes means that expanding clean energy applications could actually make tradeoffs in developing economies between water necessary for adaptation for ecosystems, cities, farmers, and livelihoods much harder.”

“In truth, I feel real fear about the perverse and potentially destructive incentives the UNFCCC may reinforce if water is continued to be treated incoherently,” he said.

As for the future of water in the final climate change document, due to be completed in Paris in December 2015, Matthews noted that “pressure and expectations for the Paris COP [Conference of Parties 21] in general are already quite high.”

He pointed to efforts by the French government and French Water Partnership to build “staged momentum” through a number of water and science-policy events.  

“Current expectations…center on a comprehensive climate mitigation deal, a significant commitment to adaptation and loss and damage funding, and a more coherent approach on water in all of these programs,” said Matthews.