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World Water Day 2020

Water plays a central role in the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement

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Scheumann, Waltina / Annabelle Houdret
The Current Column (2020)

Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), The current column of March 20, 2020

The United Nations is dedicating this year's World Water Day (March 22) to the topicWater and climate change. The UN is making it clear that water plays a central role in adapting to climate change and in reducing emissions that are harmful to the climate. This was already highlighted by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Climate protection and adaptation to climate change are two sides of the same coin. The member states of the UN Climate Convention, however, have to counter this with different packages of measures. This is anything but trivial and will not be possible without the support of international institutions. The countries are also faced with the challenge of taking into account the central role of water resources in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) adopted by the United Nations: Without sustainable water management, both food production and electricity generation are at risk, not to mention supplying the population with drinking water.

Climate change manifests itself in more frequent and longer periods of drought, in floods and - quite generally - in changed precipitation regimes. All of this is well known. That is why 102 member states have already classified the water sector as vulnerable in their national climate action plans. Extreme weather conditions are mentioned in 93 climate action plans. 97 countries rate floods and 83 droughts as climate risks. Over two thirds of the national climate action plans contain adaptation measures. Management approaches and techniques for a reliable water supply and incentives that can lead to sustainable use of the resource are known, although not always applied.

The example of agriculture shows the connections between the climate and sustainability agenda particularly clearly: SDG 2 aims to end hunger globally, and this implicitly means that farmers have to be prepared for too much and too little water to produce the global need for food. Strong fluctuations in precipitation are already making it difficult to grow food in sub-Saharan Africa. In many areas, rainfall is simply insufficient and periods of drought are common. Investing in additional water storage and irrigation infrastructure can make food cultivation independent of unreliable rainfall. “Irrigation is our insurance. If the rain comes too late or stops too early, it has serious consequences. Irrigation eliminates this risk ”- said a farmer from Zambia. In this case, access to finance is crucial.

However, the water law aspect must be taken into account. The national water authorities must be able to react flexibly not only to increasing sectoral demands, but also to changes in precipitation, without restricting their rights too much, in the approval process for water uses. And they should not exempt smallholders from permits, as is the case in many SSA countries, otherwise their rights will not be protected.

Successful national water policy today must primarily rely on the following strategies:

What we do, do better: You don't have to reinvent the wheel of water policy. Many technical solutions and management options are aimed at a more careful and efficient use of the resource, which creates space for adaptation to climate change. Governments and the private sector should invest more in water infrastructure and legacy equipment, and expand supplies to households and farmers.

Thinking water, climate and SDGs together: Know-how and instruments must be used to link the goals in the climate area with the efforts to implement the SDGs. Many of the national climate action plans contain preventive measures that are associated with high water consumption and interference with the water balance. This is the case when new water reservoirs for drinking water supply are built without taking into account that the reduced water runoff is a burden on ecosystems and other users downstream.

Making global water governance more holistic and efficient: The current architecture is incoherent, as our study shows: Within the United Nations, many organizations deal with specific aspects of water as a resource. Two innovations at UN level could help: an intergovernmental organization that pools and coordinates decisions at UN level, and a panel of experts that improves the exchange between research and practice in the water sector.

The Committee on the World Food Security should be the subject Water tenure take up and formulate guidelines like those of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security.

Let us make water management 'fit for the future' by pursuing these approaches and supporting them politically and financially.

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