Stockholm — This week people gather from around the globe at the annual Stockholm World Week. If previous years are anything to go by, the "Water is life" cliché will be repeated endlessly. But the phrase is useful shorthand for this simple fact: water is the cornerstone of human health and economic development. If managed poorly, water is an obstacle to development; if managed well, it brings prosperity and peace.
Going from economic growth to sustainable development is the political imperative of our time. To do that, leaders have to deliver on water security. What does it take?
Everyone at the table
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for an "all-of-society engagement and partnership" to bring about the large scale transformational change needed to address the world's challenges. This is particularly important in solving water problems, most of which stem from demands of competing users. Water is everywhere - in food, health, energy, migration, jobs, poverty, climate, disaster relief. Business as usual - a fragmented approach with each sector acting unilaterally - means we'll need three planets worth of water!
GWP cheered when the 2030 Agenda adopted a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on water: SDG 6 - "ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all" - and included a specific target for the implementation of integrated water resources management (IWRM). That target on the integrated approach (working across sectors) is now a global political commitment. A water secure world requires all users around the table, a multi-stakeholder approach of the kind urged by the last of the 17 SDGs: revitalizing a "global partnership for sustainable development."
Money, money, money
"Water crises" is among the top-ranked global risks for the past several years in the World Economic Forum Global Risks Report. The 2017 report said, "... changing weather patterns or water crises can trigger or exacerbate geopolitical and societal risks, such as domestic or regional conflict and involuntary migration, particularly in geopolitically fragile areas." Even though the Paris climate agreement did not make an explicit connection between climate breakdown and water, the link is a no-brainer. Which probably explains why water is the most-cited priority sector in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris agreement.
The New Climate Economy report estimates that to prevent the worst impacts of climate breakdown, net additional investment of $4 trillion will be needed (270 billion per year, a mere $36 per person). The UN Environment Programme's 2016 Adaptation Finance Gap report suggests that annual adaptation needs are in the range of $140-300 billion by 2030, rising to $280-500 billion by 2050.
Investments in water security are uniquely catalytic: a leverage point to alleviate poverty, improve access to clean water and sanitation, protect ecosystems, and enhance climate resilience for fragile communities in a way that is gender and socially inclusive.
We know that not all this money is going to come from public funding. Fortunately, CEOs from a range of industries have stepped up their efforts to address climate breakdown, making commitments to decrease carbon footprints and engage in sustainable resource management.
The communities most in need of financing also need support in identifying and preparing projects for investment, especially adaptation. The challenge is to ensure that the notion of "bankability" is encompassing enough to include the poorest of the poor. For example, since 2014, GWP helped secure EUR 19.5 million in climate financing for vulnerable communities in Africa. The implementation of the resulting investment plans has the potential to protect nearly 74 million people from water crises.
With its new programme to meet the water-related SDGs, GWP is extending its support to develop investment plans to finance implementation of NDC roadmaps. To close the water adaptation financing gap, countries will be assisted in preparing proposals for submission to international climate funds such as the Adaptation Fund and Green Climate Fund.
Conditions for change
Water problems are usually problems of management or governance: water policies, legal frameworks, and institutions. Even if all water problems are local, the solutions are similar: cross-sector cooperation, informed people, reliable information, competent institutions, fair decision-making, benefit-sharing, and, of course, technical expertise and financial resources. These governance solutions are called the "enabling environment." Financing the enabling environment and all that constitutes sound water management is a good insurance policy for speeding up the achievement of a water secure world.
Strengthening institutions and actors to solve water problems not only creates an enabling environment for investments, but also provides a safe space for businesses to sustain their water management strategies and value chains. Investments in water security are uniquely catalytic: a leverage point to alleviate poverty, improve access to clean water and sanitation, protect ecosystems, and enhance climate resilience for fragile communities in a way that is gender and socially inclusive. After all, water is the cornerstone of human health and economic development or... water is life!