The UNECE Water Convention’s Contribution to the 2030 Agenda
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In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted in September 2015, the range of water issues receiving international attention has considerably expanded.

In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted in September 2015, the range of water issues receiving international attention has considerably expanded. The Millennium Development Goals monitored only access to water supply and sanitation, whereas the new agenda includes a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on water (Goal 6), which addresses the whole water cycle, and many water-related targets in other Goals, on poverty, hunger, health, gender, education, human settlements, ecosystems, oceans and more.

Another aspect that significantly increases the level of ambition of the agenda is an explicit call for transboundary water cooperation, the first in a negotiated UN text since Agenda 21. Aggressive unilateral development of water resources risks compromising co-riparian countries’ development aspirations, so transboundary cooperation is required. Water is commonly a catalyst for cooperation, contributing to peace and security: one illustration is the important role that water played in peace-building in the post-Yugoslav era in South-Eastern Europe, when the International Sava River Basin Commission was created. Peace is a pillar of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the promotion of transboundary cooperation will strengthen universal peace.

Cooperation will be necessary for implementing the SDGs, and the major event to review developments in water cooperation is the seventh session of the Meeting of the Parties (MOP7) to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (UNECE Water Convention), which will be held in Budapest, Hungary, from 17-19 November 2015. The three-yearly meeting of the Convention’s main decision-making body is expected to gather more than 350 delegates. The SDGs will be the topic of the high-level segment.

Progress in implementing the water Goal will be a prerequisite for achievement of several other Goals, such as those related to food security (a part of Goal 2) and renewable energies (a part of Goal 7). But without coordination across sectors and planning that integrates all of these areas, none of these Goals can be achieved efficiently. For example, energy strategies may not take water resource constraints into account or may not adequately consider the competing demands for the same limited water resource. A concrete example is expanding hydropower development, which inevitably regulates river flow, and which may affect water availability for production of staple crops. In transboundary basins, such effects propagate across borders to the countries downstream, potentially with significant impacts. A new assessment of intersectoral links, trade-offs and benefits – which UNECE will launch at MOP7 – digs into the complex linkages in specific basin contexts and suggests a broad range of possible solutions, drawing upon stakeholder insights.

In addition to the strengthened ambition on water cooperation in the international development agenda, the legal basis for transboundary water cooperation also has been significantly strengthened in the last couple of years. The UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, signed in 1997, finally entered into force in 2014, and the UNECE Water Convention’s global opening to all UN Member States is becoming a reality. The two Conventions are fully compatible and complementary in their provisions: the various articles of each convention provide guidance for the interpretation and application of the other. Coordinated implementation of the two Conventions will give strong support worldwide to improving the legal and institutional basis for the sustainable management of transboundary waters.

Framework instruments like the Conventions provide the necessary basis for States to conclude specific agreements on shared waters with their co-riparian countries. Such cooperation will be fundamental for the achievement of the integration in water management called for by the 2030 Agenda. For some 20 years, the UNECE Water Convention has been supporting the development of water cooperation in the pan-European region, including the Caucasus and Central Asia, by providing a model for bilateral or multilateral agreements, drafting soft law instruments and assisting countries on the ground through technical projects.

MOP7 is expected to decide on the establishment of a regular mechanism for countries to report on their transboundary water cooperation. As it is proposed that all countries be invited to report, irrespective of whether they are party to the Water Convention, reporting can contribute to the monitoring of progress globally. The Meeting of the Parties and the rest of the UNECE Water Convention’s institutional framework can also function as an important platform for sharing experience relevant to both conventions.

Many benefits of transboundary cooperation, and in some respects the most important ones such as stability and economic integration, are difficult to value in monetary terms and may often be overlooked. A new policy guidance note on the identification, assessment and communication of such wide-ranging benefits, prepared in the framework of the UNECE Water Convention, is expected to make the case for investing into cooperation. Good cooperation is invaluable when unexpected situations strike: a timely warning of flooding transmitted in a harmonized information system may save lives and millions in damages avoided. Stability and confidence in transboundary relations spur joint investments, mobility and trade, which provide favorable conditions for economic growth, with mutual benefits for the countries involved.

Water resources are under pressure from development and pollution. At the same time, climatic variability and change may aggravate those pressures and create additional pressures. In the framework of the UNECE Water Convention, best practices in adaptation to climate change in shared basins have been gathered and published to illustrate ways to respond more effectively to changes. Exchange of experience at the transboundary level, on topics such as reducing water use efficiency in the face of scarcity, and the coordination of measures, are fruitful actions for adaptation to climate change. This publication is timely in view of the approaching Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris (COP 21).

When the official delegations of more than 70 countries gather in Budapest, the programme of work that will be adopted for the Water Convention will be more global than ever and mobilize an increasing number of partners and Governments. Its scope demonstrates the coming of age of transboundary cooperation which – like the implementation of the SDGs – has to address a broad spectrum of issues.

IISD Reporting Services will provide ENB+ meeting coverage from MOP7. Find updates here:

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