Climate Negotiators Urged to Address Water in Paris

By Susan Bruninga

Aug. 25 — Climate negotiators convening in Paris late this year need to begin addressing the critical water-related impacts from climate change, whether it's increased drought or flooding caused by more severe storms, the president of the World Water Council said Aug. 25.

“The majority of impacts will be felt by, through and with water,” Benedito Braga, president of the World Water Council, an organization focused on improving water management worldwide, told reporters during World Water Week in Stockholm.

His comments come in anticipation of negotiations at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP-21) that will take place beginning Nov. 30 in Paris. The goal of the Paris summit is to reach a global deal on fighting climate change.

“What are we doing to minimize water impacts?” he asked. “Nothing in the negotiations. The impacts of climate change are in reality impacts to water.”

Braga's group and other organizations such as the World Bank and numerous advocacy groups focused on water challenges have been trying, with little success, they say, to bring water into the climate talks, where energy issues dominate the negotiations.

‘Liftoff for Water.'

Junaid Ahmad, senior director for water with the World Bank Group, said bringing the issue of water to the fore of climate talks will take time. The near-term goal should be to lay the groundwork.

“COP-21 should be the liftoff for water. It should open the political space for existing organizations to step in to address the challenge of water,” Ahmad said. “A political statement by the heads of state endorsing movement towards putting water on the table and recognizing the importance of water itself would be the first outcome we would be looking for.”

Braga agreed, saying he didn't expect any agreement coming out of COP-21 to include a chapter on water.

One result of having a large focus on energy during past climate talks has been greater public awareness that has boosted support for energy efficiency. However, efforts to promote water efficiency has not taken hold to the same degree.

Advocating Water Efficiency

“Water efficiency should be as common as energy efficiency,” said Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, the host organization for World Water Week.

Options for addressing water challenges, particularly scarce supplies, will have to include pricing, an issue whose opponents say could hurt disadvantaged communities that already struggle to have adequate supplies of clean water. But those who advocate for a system to put a price on water say it is necessary in order to better manage it.

“The world has been trying to put a price on carbon, but we don't know how to put a value on water,” Ahmad said. “Pricing of water is one of the most powerful mechanisms of ensuring water for everyone—cities, agriculture, the private sector.”

Holmgren said financing will be important for implementing the infrastructure and capacity to address the effects of climate change.

Elevating the issue of water in climate talks will also be helped by the business sector as companies realize how important water is to their supply chains, Holmgren said.

“The combination of businesses, local municipalities, national legislatures, that is the driving force for using water more efficiently,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Susan Bruninga in Stockholm at sbruninga@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com