MOSCOW – In May, Vietnam became the 35th and decisive signatory of the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. As a result, 90 days later, on August 17, the convention will enter into force.
The fact that it took almost 50 years to draft and finally achieve the necessary ratification threshold demonstrates that something is very wrong with the modern system of multilateralism. Regardless of longstanding disagreements over how cross-border freshwater resources should be allocated and managed, and understandable preferences by governments and water professionals to rely on basin agreements rather than on international legal instruments, that half-century wait can be explained only by a lack of political leadership. So, though the world may celebrate the convention’s long-awaited adoption, we cannot rest on our laurels.
Roughly 60% of all freshwater runs within cross-border basins; only an estimated 40% of those basins, however, are governed by some sort of basin agreement. In an increasingly water-stressed world, shared water resources are becoming an instrument of power, fostering competition within and between countries. The struggle for water is heightening political tensions and exacerbating impacts on ecosystems.
But the really bad news is that water consumption is growing faster than population – indeed, in the twentieth century it grew at twice the rate. As a result, several UN agencies forecast that, by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions stricken with absolute water scarcity, implying a lack of access to adequate quantities for human and environmental uses. Moreover, two-thirds of the world’s population will face water-stress conditions, meaning a scarcity of renewable freshwater.
Without resolute counter-measures, demand for water will overstretch many societies’ adaptive capacities. This could result in massive migration, economic stagnation, destabilization, and violence, posing a new threat to national and international security.
The UN Watercourses Convention must not become just another ignored international agreement, filed away in a drawer. The stakes are too high. In today’s context of climate change, rising demand, population growth, increasing pollution, and overexploited resources, everything must be done to consolidate the legal framework for managing the world’s watersheds. Our environmental security, economic development, and political stability directly depend on it.
The convention will soon apply to all of the cross-border rivers of its signatories’ territories, not just the biggest basins. It will complement the gaps and shortcomings of existing agreements and provide legal coverage to the numerous cross-border rivers that are under increasing pressure.
Worldwide, there are 276 cross-border freshwater basins and about as many cross-border aquifers. Backed by adequate financing, political will, and the engagement of stakeholders, the convention can help address the water challenges that we are all facing. But will it?
An ambitious agenda should be adopted now, at a time when the international community is negotiating the contents of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the successor to the UN Millennium Development Goals, which will expire in 2015. We at Green Cross hope that the new goals, which are to be achieved by 2030, will include a stand-alone target that addresses water-resources management.
Moreover, the international community will soon have to agree on a climate-change framework to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Climate change directly affects the hydrological cycle, which means that all of the efforts that are undertaken to contain greenhouse-gas emissions will help to stabilize rainfall patterns and mitigate the extreme water events that so many regions are already experiencing.
But the UN Watercourses Convention’s entry into force raises as many new questions as existed in the period before its ratification. What will its implementation mean in practice? How will countries apply its mandates within their borders and in relation to riparian neighbors? How will the American and Asian countries that have largely ignored ratification respond?
Furthermore, how will the convention relate to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, which is already in force in most European and Central Asian countries and, since February 2013, has aimed to open its membership to the rest of the world? Similarly, how will the convention’s implementation affect existing regional and local cross-border freshwater agreements?
The countries that ratified the UN Watercourses Convention are expected to engage in its implementation and to go further in their efforts to protect and sustainably use their cross-border waters. What instruments, including financial, will the convention provide to them?
Several legal instruments can be implemented jointly and synergistically: the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to name just a few. The UN Watercourses Convention’s long-delayed enactment should be viewed as an opportunity for signatory states to encourage those that are not yet party to cooperative agreements to work seriously on these issues.
Clearly, politicians and diplomats alone cannot respond effectively to the challenges that the world faces. What the world needs is the engagement of political, business, and civil-society leaders; effective implementation of the UN Watercourses Convention is impossible without it.
This is too often overlooked, but it constitutes the key to the long-term success of cooperation that generates benefits for all. Inclusive participation by stakeholders (including the affected communities), and the development of the capacity to identify, value, and share the benefits of cross-border water resources, should be an integral part of any strategy to achieve effective multilateral collaboration. More
The efforts of youth from all around the world to offer solutions and to work together to tackle the global water crisis both humble and inspire me. You are truly making a difference.
President Gorbachev, who spoke at the opening of the World Water Forum just two days ago, believes in the power of all people, particularly the youth, to make change aimed at protecting the environment. Young people – who will be tomorrow’s leaders — have a vital role to play to ensure all people can live free of poverty and insecurity, and enjoy a world that conserves – not exploits – its many natural wonders.
I come from the Netherlands, a country that has a lot of experience in “coping” with water. My country is one that is vulnerable to global warming and rising oceans. Fortunately, we have a long history of finding ways to stop the ocean from flooding much of a country that rests largely below sea level. Water is a central part of Dutch life, from our many canals and dikes to the water-powered windmills that are dotted all over the country. Many historians argue that our social organization was built on the need for communities to organize democratically in order to pull together to stop an invading ocean or a broken dike – a recognition that water crises do not discriminate whether they come in the form of floods or drought and, most importantly, that water crises can unite people and not only separate them.
The Netherlands, however, is not a country associated with scarcity of water, a curse for many populations today that will grow much worse. For our world is already buckling under the weight of our 7-billion strong population, and in less than 20 years from now, we will have grown to 8.3 billion . As you know, this will only increase the demand for water. Consequently, by 2025 experts estimate that two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions.
Water scarcity is the problem that our future generations will have to face. Responsibility for solving this global challenge, some might say, lies unfairly in the hands of you and young people around the world. You did not cause the crisis, but it will be up to today’s youth to be prepared for steering our world toward a more sustainable future, a path that will ensure we respond to the water crisis, fairly share our available water resources, promote conservation and end waste, and help millions upon millions of people realize their basic Human Right to have access to safe Water and Sanitation.
Lack of adequate drinking water and poor or non-existent sanitation target the youth unfairly. For example, 443 million school days are missed every year due to sickness caused by water-related diseases, such as diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera. Lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation is one of the main obstacles to education today. This is bad, but what is absolutely intolerable is that diarrhoea is the world’s second biggest killer of children and accounts for 1.5 million young lives every year. Moreover, in the absence of functioning drainage systems, water forms stagnant puddles that are soon infested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes: 3600 people die of malaria each day and 3200 of them are children. These grim statistics do not even take into account the ravages imposed on children as a result of water scarcity, which affects the availability of food and increases the risk of malnutrition among children.
Young girls are especially vulnerable to today’s water problems. For in many communities, young girls fetch water – often walking many miles to do so – placing their health, safety, education and development at grave risk. If a girl’s town or village has no safe source of water, it is often her job to collect it for her family, meaning she cannot attend school. This is a double tragedy that must be overcome.
Another factor against girls is the lack of sanitation facilities in schools, which can force many to stop attending classes when they reach puberty. Without education, futures of children and young women are being lost.
Without access to safe water and education, many young people will find it even harder – if not impossible – to rise out of poverty. As a result, when they become parents themselves, their own children will be trapped by the same problems.
But there are things we can all do today.
You are an extremely powerful voice of change. The more noise you make the more power you have. You have the right to demand a better world, as you are the ones who will inherit the problems we have caused. There are concrete actions that you can take that will result in meaningful change.
Green Crosses’ Green Lane Environmental Diary, which some of you may have participated in, shows ways to reduce our water footprints, from taking shorter showers, to avoiding use of plastic bottles. These basic tips, when practiced by an entire community can result in massive changes in the management of water resources. These are guidelines for individuals but collectively they can have profound impacts.
On a policy level you can demand that countries that have not ratified the United Nations Watercourses Convention do so. Some of you live in places that have not ratified the Convention and just 11 more signatures are needed from governments to validate it. It is the only global set of regulations and measures drafted for governing the more than 270 rivers in the world that are shared by multiple countries. 145 countries share these rivers and the groundwater linked to them. Their basins are home to 40% of the planet’s human population. But only 40% of these rivers are covered by official agreements on how to share and manage them, many of which are unsatisfactory. These weaknesses must be addressed if we are to tackle global challenges such as climate change and growing water demands.
Since you are here you have already developed the taste for politics. As potential future parliamentarians you will demand that the Right to Water and Sanitation is enshrined in your country’s constitutions and laws. It is imperative that you do all in your power to ensure your fellow countrymen and women can realize this fundamental, life-preserving right.
After meeting many of you and seeing what you have done here in Marseille, I have great confidence in your abilities to make a difference when it comes to ensuring all people have access to safe water.
I know you wont forget the experiences you have had here at the World Youth Parliament for Water. But I urge you to apply what you have absorbed, and put it into action, first and foremost in your own communities, and hopefully further afield.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”. I encourage you to start believing. Thank you for the honor to speak with you and good luck. More
Many people in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands wonder why there are still US tactical nuclear weapons on their soil. These B-61 nuclear gravity bombs were stationed in Europe during the Cold War to deter the Soviet threat, but while this may (or may not) have once made sense, most pundits nowadays agree that at least from a military point of view, the weapons are irrelevant. More
Given the tremendous damage the we humans have already done to the Earth, our home planet, the use of nuclear weapons in a conflict would be beyond insane.
We have already gone a long way to poisoning our atmosphere, making our oceans, one of the major sources of food, so acidic that we may be at a tipping point that will wipe out the shellfish and crustaceans that compose a large part of the ocean food chain. Fish stocks are in many areas depleted leading the FAO to suggest banning commercial fishing in some areas of some oceans.
We also have to face global heating which may bring with it changing rainfall patterns, which may lead to water and food shortages. Many inhabitants of our world are already living on barely enough food and water to keep them alive. Furthermore, the planetary population is growing and heading for nine billion by mid-century. Experts are questioning whether or not we will be able to feed this many.
We have to keep in mind that we have only this small fragile planet. A planet in a backwater of our local galaxy. There are no inhabitable worlds to go to nor the transport to get there on. If we do not take care and preserve our world, which will take a global effort to accomplish, the human race may perish. Think of your children and family members,your friends and colleagues If we use nuclear weapons all will certainly perish.
Chernobyl and Fukushima and all the nuclear testing carried out by the UN's P5 have spread more than enough nuclear pollution through the planet. A nuclear conflict would seal our fate.
Pope Francis said recently, “Even today we raise our hand against our brother… We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death”.
As H.H. 14th Dalai Lama said, “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.” Editor
Juan Cole writes ‘With the alleged fall to the Islamic State of Iraq, and [in] Syria of Qa’im on Saturday, and of Talafar a few days ago, the border between Iraq and Syria has now been effectively erased.
A new country exists, stretching from the outskirts of Baghdad all the way to Aleppo.
The first thing that occurred to me on the fall of Qa’im is that Iran no longer has its land bridge to Lebanon. I suppose it could get much of the way there through Kurdish territory, but ISIS could ambush the convoys when they came into Arab Syria. Since Iran has expended a good deal of treasure and blood to keep Bashar al-Assad in power so as to maintain that land bridge, it surely will not easily accept being blocked by ISIS. Without Iranian shipments of rockets and other munitions, Lebanon’s Hizbullah would rapidly decline in importance, and south Lebanon would be open again to potential Israeli occupation. I’d say, we can expect a Shiite counter-strike to maintain the truck routes to Damascus.
He goes on to say ‘Syrian jets bombed eastern positions of ISIS near the Iraqi border, perhaps signalling a likely alliance of Damascus and Baghdad to put the Sunni radical genie back in the bottle’.
From a petro-political perspective I find myself asking the following questions;
The answer to these three questions will inform the price of oil going forward. According to Reuters Libya’s oil output has sunk back to a current 1.16 million barrels per day of oil due to disruption at fields and terminals, a senior industry source told stated on Tuesday. Iran put OPEC on notice of its plans to raise output swiftly with the help of foreign investors immediately after any lifting of sanctions imposed over its nuclear programme. Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said Iran could increase oil exports by 500,000 barrels per day immediately after any lifting of sanctions. “Very quickly we can increase by half a million and after a couple of months we can increase it to 700,000 barrels per day,” he told reporters ahead of OPEC’s Wednesday meeting. He said Iran could pump 4 million bpd in less than three months after any lifting of restrictions. When sanctions may be lifted is the unknown factor.
For those of us living on Small Island Dveloping States (SIDS) and other states dependant on fossil fuel, the path towards alternative energy, i.e. solar, wind, OTEC and ocean current technologies looks more attractive with every passing day. Editor
Syria's devastating civil war that began in March 2011 has killed over 200,000 people, displaced at least 4.5 million, and created 3 million refugees.
|Figure 1. The highest level of drought,
“Exceptional”, was affecting much of
Western Syria in April 2014, as measured
by the one-year Standardized Precipitation
Image credit: NOAA's Global Drought Portal
While the causes of the war are complex, a key contributing factor was the nation's devastating 2006 – 2011 drought, one of the worst in the nation's history, according to new research accepted for publication in the journal Weather, Climate, and Society by water resources expert Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute. The drought brought the Fertile Crescent's lowest 4-year rainfall amounts since 1940, and Syria's most severe set of crop failures in recorded history. The worst drought-affected regions were eastern Syria, northern Iraq, and Iran, the major grain-growing areas of the northern Fertile Crescent. In a press release that accompanied the release of the new paper, Dr. Gleick said that as a result of the drought, “the decrease in water availability, water mismanagement, agricultural failures, and related economic deterioration contributed to population dislocations and the migration of rural communities to nearby cities. These factors further contributed to urban unemployment, economic dislocations, food insecurity for more than a million people, and subsequent social unrest.”
This makes it more important than ever to take urgent and drastic action to curb climate change by reducing carbon emissions, he argues.
Lord Stern, who wrote a hugely influential review on the financial implications of climate change in 2006, says the economic models that have been used to calculate the fiscal fallout from climate change are woefully inadequate and severely underestimate the scale of the threat.
As a result, even the recent and hugely authoritative series of reports from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are significantly flawed, he said.
“It is extremely important to understand the severe limitations of standard economic models, such as those cited in the IPCC report, which have made assumptions that simply do not reflect current knowledge about climate change and its … impacts on the economy,” said Lord Stern, a professor at the Grantham Institute, a research centre at the London School of Economics.
Professor Stern and his colleague Dr Simon Dietz will today publish the peer-reviewed findings of their research into climate change economic modelling in the The Economic Journal.
Their review is highly critical of established economic models which, among other things, fail to acknowledge the full breadth of climate change’s likely impact on the economy and are predicated on assumptions about global warming’s effect on output that are “without scientific foundation”.
Professor Stern, whose earlier research said it is far cheaper to tackle climate change now than in the future, added: “I hope our paper will prompt … economists to strive for much better models [and] … help policy-makers and the public recognise the immensity of the potential risks of unmanaged climate change.”
“Models that assume catastrophic damages are not possible fail to take account of the magnitude of the issues and the implications of the science,” he said.
Professor Stern and Dr Dietz say their findings strengthen the case for strong cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and imply that, unless this happens, living standards could even start to decline later this century.
For the study, they modified key features of the “dynamic integrated climate-economy” (Dice) model, initially devised by William Nordhaus in the 1990s. The changes take into account the latest scientific findings and some of the uncertainties about the major risks of climate change that are usually omitted.
The standard Dice model has been used in a wide range of economic studies of the potential impacts of climate change, some of which have been cited in the most recent IPCC report which has been released in three parts over the past nine months.
Dr Dietz said: “While this standard economic model has been useful for economists who estimate the potential impacts of climate change, our paper shows some major improvements are needed before it can reflect the extent of the risks indicated by the science.”
Dr Dietz said his aim was to show how a new version of the model could produce a range of results that are much more representative of the science and economics of climate change, taking into account the uncertainties.
“The new version of this standard economic model, for instance, suggests that the risks from climate change are bigger than portrayed by previous economic models and therefore strengthens the case for strong cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases,” he said.
The new model differs in that it considers a wider temperature range when estimating the impact of doubling the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases – a measure of “climate sensitivity”.
Whereas the standard model usually assumes a single temperature for climate sensitivity of about 3C, the new model uses a range of 1.5C to 6C, which the authors say more accurately reflects the scientific consensus.
The standard model also “implausibly” suggests a loss of global output of 50 per cent would only result after a rise in global average temperature of 18C, even though such warming would likely render the Earth uninhabitable for most species, including humans, Dr Dietz contends.
The new model includes the possibility that such damage could occur at much lower levels of global warming. Standard economic models rule out the possibility that global warming of 5-6C above pre-industrial levels could cause catastrophic damages, even though such temperatures have not occurred on Earth for tens of millions of years. Such an assertion, he says, is without scientific foundation and embodies a false assumption that the risks are known, with great confidence, to be small.
The new model also takes into account that climate change can damage not just economic output, but productivity. The standard model assumes that rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere only affect economic growth in a very limited way, according to Dr Dietz. More