Water-related climate change adaptation issues off the agenda?

We’ve steered clear of any comments so far on the upcoming COP15 climate change conference in Copenhagen this December. We generally try to remain optimistic about international events such as this. Nevertheless so few people seem to expect even minimal climate-related progress in Copenhagen let alone more radical developments that we are concerned this pessimism may turn out to be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

However we felt we had to pass on what has been reported by European Water News today. During recent UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations in Barcelona, a specially organised ‘Water Day‘ lobbying event was held (on 3rd November, not to be confused with the very similarly named World Water Day initiative). However the Day has been branded a failure as it seems that working background documents for Copenhagen will now exclude any substantial consideration of the key role of water for climate change adaptation. The Water Day participants had made the point that water was ‘an essential and cross-cutting concern for climate change adaptation and mitigation across a range of different issues including livelihoods, ecosystems, trans-boundary cooperation, gender and energy requirements‘. Other water-related concerns raised were about increased frequency and severity of flooding and continuing water-borne disease problems under climate change. Sadly these and other water-related points were missed so a key piece of the climate change puzzle will be absent when the meetings in Copenhagen go ahead later this year.

The Global Public Policy Network (GPPN) who helped organise the Water Day still plans to campaign about water issues in the build-up to Copenhagen but the failure of the Day remains a serious setback.

It seems the struggle to keep water and sanitation issues high up on political agendas around the world has taken a serious hit since the relative success of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. In Johannesburg the WASH (now Water Sanitation Hygiene) campaign was very high profile and was well linked to the water and sanitation targets within the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s so hard for politicians to stay focused though. Water and sanitation issues are so fundamental, cross-cutting and long-term in nature that they have never really fitted into any neat, short-term geo-political frameworks. Yet they remain essential to human survival and prosperity and will only become more important under projected future climate change scenarios. Sadly it seems that it has not been possible to consider these vital issues within the apparently increasingly myopic preparations for Copenhagen.

Given that the only other major global event that could consider water-related issues during this past year has already been a relative failure (the largely disappointing World Water Forum which we already mentioned back in March) the exclusion of water-related climate change issues at Copenhagen seems like a terrible wasted opportunity.

Update (16/11/2016): Featured image added from this source.

Duncan Thomas

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