After two years of lobbying and campaigning, is the world finally waking up to water?

Two years ago, I first made the journey to Bonn in Germany for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on water resources together with our colleagues in the Water and Climate Coalition.

I spent many an hour walking the corridors to track down government negotiators, to try and engage them on this particular issue.

There was a definite interest in water from many, in particular from developing country negotiators already feeling the impact of climate change. But I often got the feeling that water was considered a niche issue at best.

As a result, Progressio initiated the Just Add Water campaign in the run up to the big Copenhagen climate change summit in December 2009, trying to place water more firmly on the agenda.

Just Add Water

Two years later and I’ve again returned from the UNFCCC negotiations in Bonn.

In the fall-out from the Copenhagen summit, it is clear that many are disillusioned with what this process can deliver and the negotiations no longer attract the crowds they used to. The discussions are often focused on procedures and technicalities and the political agendas have almost completely taken over. Many countries are increasingly eager to protect their national interests without too much interruption to ‘business as usual’.

Some good news!

So what has happened with water? Well, there is some good news! After two years of continuous lobbying and awareness raising it seems that the world is finally waking up.

We achieved some success in the first year, managing to ensure that water was included in the official negotiation text.

In the second year, we raised our game. While a mention in the text is good and can open up a space to discuss water issues, we wanted to be sure that meaningful discussions definitely happened, and started to push for a work programme specifically focused on water and climate change.

This would ensure that water could be discussed more comprehensively, both from an adaptation side (how we deal with the effects of climate change) and the mitigation side (how we limit carbon emissions).

Cancun breakthrough

At the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) in Cancun, Mexico, late last year we finally managed to break some proper ground.

After a massive lobbying effort, both Ecuador and Sudan raised water as a proposed agenda item in the plenary, with several other countries supporting it. This paved the way for water being included on the provisional agenda for these past weeks’ meeting in Bonn, spearheaded by our friends in the Ecuador government delegation.

Never easy

But things are never as easy as they seem, in particular when dealing with massively complex political processes, such as the UNFCCC. Other new items had also been added to the agenda, and it became clear that while all countries acknowledged the importance of water, for various reasons they were less convinced about the need for a separate work programme. A decision was instead taken to include water issues in an already ongoing process, the Nairobi Work Programme on adaptation.

So, where do we go from here?

The fact that water now looks to have a firm place in the adaptation discussions is incredibly good news! But the work isn’t finished. The recognition of the importance of water has only just started, and we need to continue to push to ensure it doesn’t fall off the agenda.

And we mustn’t forget the mitigation side. Many of the proposed ‘green’ solutions to reduce carbon emissions are very water intensive and can have significant impacts on poor communities, and this must not be forgotten.

The next big UNFCCC meeting will be in Durban, South Africa, later this year – Progressio is on the case, so watch this space.

Petra Kjell is Progressio’s Environment Policy and Advocacy Officer.

Photo: Women farmers collecting water to irrigate their crops in Wedza, Zimbabwe, where Progressio development worker Melody Kwanayi is helping small-scale farmers to cope with climate uncertainty, improve their crop yields, and triple their income.