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OOSKAnews Voices: We’ll Always Have Paris (and Marrakesh): Implementing a Water and Climate Action Agenda

CORVALLIS, OR, United States

OOSKAnews Voices is a series of guest “opinion columns” written by senior participants in different parts of the international water community. The columns provide a global platform for organizations and individuals to promulgate their views and messages.

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, describes the importance of  the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

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.

In the 1942 film Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart looked deeply into the eyes of Ingrid Bergman before she boarded a plane in World War II Morocco, telling her, “We’ll always have Paris.”

Bogart and Bergman were not at the Marrakesh UNFCCC CoP22 last November, nor was Humphrey referring to the 2015 Paris Agreement. But since the Moroccan COP, I keep thinking that, for better or worse, the water community will always have Paris.

The Paris Agreement — signed in 2015 — defines a framework for how countries express climate change commitments for climate mitigation and, in many cases, for climate adaptation as well. These national statements, called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs, are not lists of projects but goals and issues. As a rule, they are aspirations: “Our nation will implement the following actions to achieve a particular goal.” And they describe whole-country goals. This is the world as defined by Paris, and it is a world that the water community will now live in.

The Paris Agreement and NDCs are also necessary to understand how water management became relevant for climate policy at the Marrakesh COP and will likely become even more critical this November at Fiji’s COP23. Two topics from Morocco are worth highlighting with regard to water.

First, the NDCs are something the water community is going to be living with a lot about over the next few years, even though the Paris Agreement itself does not mention water and there is no requirement for NDCs to do so either. Moreover, there is certainly no consistency or evenness among the NDCs that do refer to water resources or water infrastructure. The NDCs are easily available and widely variable in scope and quality— you should go read your own country’s if you haven't already. Some, such as Egypt’s, show real insight into water as a holistic mitigation-adaptation integrator, even mentioning the relevance of transboundary water management to meet climate goals. Over time, the NDCs are supposed to become clearer, more refined, and transition into specific projects to fulfill national goals.

But in reality, most countries do not manage water projects at a national scale. Cities, corporations, provinces, and agencies manage water. How do we align global and national goals with project scales and local actors? Do we have the financing to support fully bankable proiects? These are all valid questions with unclear answers. The questions began to be asked in Marrakesh. They will begin to be answered in Bonn in November.

Second, with the Moroccan government’s support and facilitation, water is now viewed as a critical factor for meeting climate policy goals, including the NDCs. To most of the water community, this may seem like an obvious point: water is deeply embedded in most aspects of clean energy, and for humans climate adaptation is largely about responses to changes in the water cycle — often through better water management. But water needed a structure and mechanism for entering the UNFCCC more broadly, and Morocco was the vehicle and support for this transition. The UNFCCC can now “see” water.

As in Paris, Morocco sponsored a day on water (November 9), which included a showcase of important institutions who recognize the linkages between water actions and climate policies; a “dialogue” among the water community, where many different types of institutions could express how they will help implement climate policies and also describe their needs; and a “Water and Climate Blue Book” capturing the lessons and insights of the water community around climate policy and action. Groups such as #ClimateIsWater (coordinated by the World Water Council), INBO, UNESCO, the French Water Partnership, and AGWA sponsored other events to showcase effective trends and knowledge, to align institutions, and to serve as a platform for engaging with negotiators and the UNFCCC itself. Companies such as Arup, water management agencies such as the US Army Corps of Engineers, and development banks such as the World Bank and European Investment Bank stood up in Marrakesh to share their insights in how to keep the NDCs “floating,” sustained, and effective as they crystallize into projects.

Predicting the outcomes for 2017 and COP23 would be risky, but the landscape of issues we need to explore is pretty clear: Humphrey Bogart was telling Ingrid Bergman that Paris was their past, but Marrakesh signaled that the Paris Agreement is clearly the water community’s future.