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UPDATE: Rio+20 and water

It appears that water will be a key issue of debate and decision-making at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) – more commonly referred to as Rio+20 – set to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on June 4-6, 2012 – 20 years after the first Earth Summit took place in Rio in June 1992.

RIO and RIO+10: The UN-Water website states, “The Rio+20 Summit…provides a unique opportunity to strengthen the commitment from Governments and the international community to promote and implement integrated approaches to the sustainable management of water resources, as called for in Rio 1992 (Chapter 18 of Agenda 21) and in Johannesburg 2002 (the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation).” While additional analysis on these statements would be helpful, it should be noted that Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow wrote in her book Blue Covenant, “The World Water Council and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development were major players at the biggest water summit of them all – the United Nation’s World Summit on Sustainable Development – ‘Rio+10’ – held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in the late summer of 2002. …The WSSD…became totally captive to the interests of transnational corporations and is generally acknowledged by all but the big business community to have been a complete failure. …The only concrete outcome of Johannesburg was that governments and the UN cemented their relationship with the corporate elite and paved the way for years of partnership hype and ‘greenwash’.”

With Rio+20 fast approaching, how has water been emerging over the past several months in relation to the summit?

FEBRUARY: A UN ‘green economy’ media release states, “Policies that re-direct over a tenth of a per cent of global gross domestic product per year can assist in not only addressing the sanitation challenge but conserve freshwater by reducing water demand by a fifth by 2050 compared to projected trends.” Achim Steiner, executive director for the UN Environment Program, has said, “The green economy also applies the principle that we cannot go on polluting the way we do. Half the world’s hospital beds are filled with people who are sick from dirty or bad water.” http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy/Portals/88/documents/ger/GER_press_en.pdf

MARCH: At a ‘prepcom’ meeting for Rio+20, “Steiner (also) noted that several delegations had made the linkage between water and the green economy, Mr. Steiner called for more focus on water issues. He drew attention to UNEP’s report ‘Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication’ (http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy/GreenEconomyReport/tabid/29846/Default.aspx) which considers how a green economy would value ecosystem services. Water is currently only priced (at) the point of consumption but a full valuing of water in our natural infrastructure is needed. He asked ‘after we use water, what happens?’ Once humans have used water there is a cost to cleaning it prior to returning it to our ecosystems. …He encouraged the water world to make better use pricing and fiscal instruments to upscale successful practices. In closing, Mr. Steiner said fifty percent of the world’s wetlands have been lost – clearly our economy undervalues these precious ecosystems, highlighting the need to move a green growth model.”

Furthermore, at this same ‘prepcom’ meeting, “Jean-Pierre Thebault, French Ambassador for Environment and Head of French Delegation for Rio 2012 stressed how vital the water and sanitation issue was. He noted that water and sanitation interacted with poverty, food security, health and many other sustainable development issues. He also stressed that experts widely agreed that investing in water paid off. But the international community still lacked a sense of urgency. So, Mr. Thebault stressed the need to focus on this issue, especially in the run up to – and at – the Rio 2012 conference. He highlighted future opportunities for discussion including the 2012 6th World Water Forum in Marseille.” http://www.unwater.org/downloads/Report_Prepcom2_Side_Event_Water_GreenEconomy.pdf

MAY: The Council of Canadians was present at the 19th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development meetings in New York. As noted in a blog by Blue Planet Project organizer Anil Naidoo, a green economy paper on water includes this footnote: “The recommendations developed in this chapter have been significantly influenced by the: Development of the Dublin principles in 1992 which observes that ‘Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good’ (Global Water Partnership 1992); Camdessus Report on financing water infrastructure that called for drastic improvements in accountability, transparency and capacity-building in the public utility sector coupled with a doubling of funding for the sector (Winpenny 2003).” He writes, “Basing policy on water as an economic good and on a report by the former head of the International Monetary Fund and a strong promoter of water commodification and privatization does not inspire confidence in the Green Economy.” http://www.blueplanetproject.net/blog/?p=42

JULY: Sha Zukang heads the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and serves as the Secretary-General of Rio +20. At a press conference this summer, he identified “sound water management” as one of a series of “new and emerging challenges”. Specifically, Sha said, “Water is essential to life and is the lifeblood of farmers. It has long been taken for granted. This must change. Rising demand is running up against greater scarcity. In many places, desertification and drought are becoming more severe. This is happening even as flooding takes a heavy toll on lives and livelihoods. The risk of conflict over scarce water looms large. As does the challenge of coping with water stress. Closer international cooperation will be needed to avert conflict. Rio+20 offers an opportunity for forward-looking action on integrated water resource management.” http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/?page=view&nr=179&type=8&menu=41&template=356

AUGUST: The UN-Water website also notes, “The report (Rio+20: Water Resource Report) will be used as the basis for informed decision-making by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and national governments. It will include lessons learned and recommendations, as well as focus areas for action. The report will also provide guidance for establishing a regular international monitoring and reporting framework to promote sustainable development and management of water resources. …The report team will be at the World Water Week in Stockholm to present work progress and preliminary results at a side event entitled ‘UN Global Survey of Water Resources Management for Rio+20 Summit’, Wednesday 24 August, 12:45 – 13:45, Room T4.”

Additionally, AlterNet reports, “More than 2,600 humanitarians and policymakers meet in Stockholm next week to hash out ideas about how to tackle escalating problems surrounding water scarcity and access to sanitation, particularly in urban environments. …For many delegates, World Water Week will be about networking amid preparations for the high-level Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. …A report on a UN water resources document being prepared ahead of Rio+20 will assess the way legal and institutional frameworks have affected the development of water resource management. ‘We are trying to monitor how different agreements and water sector reforms have been adopted,’ Joakim Harlin, senior water resources advisor for UNDP, said. ‘We also want to see where this has led – the outcome and impact.'” http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/stockholm-meeting-to-stir-debate-over-global-water-crisis

Upcoming – NOVEMBER: A Stakeholder Forum web-page notes, “The (‘Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus – Water Resources in the Green Economy’) conference (being organized by the German government) is due to take place on 16th – 18th November, 2011, and will bring together governments and stakeholders in a high level set of discussions that aim to position water within the framework of the Green Economy. The conference will also include two multi-stakeholder dialogue segments. As such, Bonn 2011 will provide a critical opportunity for global stakeholders to inform the policy discussions in preparation for the Earth Summit 2012 (Rio+20).” http://www.earthsummit2012.org/news/stakeholder-forum-to-coordinate-stakeholder-engagement-process-for-bonn-water-energy-and-food-security-nexus-conference, http://www.water-energy-food.org/en/bonn_2011_process/show__14_the_bonn_2011_process.html

The Council of Canadians continues to develop its analysis of Rio +20, the green economy and water and intends to intervene at the June 2012 summit in Rio.