Photo: Splash! by notsogoodphotography

We know water is essential to human, plant, and animal life. It is the life source of the planet.

We know that many countries face multiple water crises, including contaminated drinking water, droughts, and flooding, all of which is worsened by the impacts of climate change.

So why isn’t water a key issue in the current climate change talks?

That is exactly what members of civil societies and organizations are asking here in Cancún while representatives from 192 countries are gathered to discuss climate change and the myriad of issues associated with it. Under the UNFCCC process, spaces have been designated to discuss adaptation and mitigation, with each track having various subtopics such as financing, long term collective action, the Kyoto Protocol, and all kinds of other technical and detailed points.

The elephant in the room

On December 3rd, the Climate Change Media Partnership held a press conference to highlight the importance of water as an essential resource that must be secured in the face of climate change. Each guest affirmed that in the countries each of them come from, India, Indonesia, and El Salvador, there is an increasing problem of water both in abundance (flooding), or in scarcity (drought). Each commentator also stressed the social political conflicts that stem from this crisis, and all three agreed that water wars are imminent. Panelist Daniel Murdiyarso, from the Center for International Forestry Research in Indonesia stated quite simply, “I don’t know why the UNFCCC does not talk about water.”

My colleague from UNES, Carolina Amaya, was also on the panel and added, “For us, climate change means less life for the population. It means denying people the right to food, because climate change means less access to water, and less access to food, and what we want less than anything else is for this to result in the loss of human life.”

It’s evident that we are talking about a serious issue that impacts much of the world, so again, why isn’t water a part of the UNFCCC talks?

The breakthrough

On Saturday December 4th, there was a breakthrough on the issue. Ecuador and Sudan called for water to be put on the UNFCCC climate agenda, supported by Syria, Chile, El Salvador, and Sierra Leone. What this means is that these countries have called to add an agenda item to the next meeting of the SBSTA, (the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice), which provides information to be used in the Convention.

It’s exciting and gives us hope to see an advance in the climate change talks on behalf of poor countries. It was a particularly exciting moment to see El Salvador, the country I am currently working in, support the issues that Progressio has been working on as a part of the Water and Climate Coalition.

When I attended the Water and Climate Coalition’s press conference about this victory, I was anxious to ask about what the next steps would be. The proposal is to found a work program on water under the UNFCCC which would develop policy guidelines, provide advice to climate change funds, and promote action on water at intergovernmental level.

The proposal to add this topic to the agenda of the next meeting, which is in June, will be considered by the chair. The fact that so many diverse countries supported it will help it to be considered more as a worthwhile agenda item, but it needs to be followed up on by supporting countries to assure it is included in the agenda.

There's still work to be done...

Even such a critical issue as water can be made abstract when translated into agenda items, sectors, and acronyms. But seeing so much support of this initiative, and thinking of countless stories from El Salvador from people who live the everyday effects of a water crisis, I do feel hopeful. My colleagues working on this issue definitely haven’t slowed down the pace of their work here at the COP since this victory. There is still so much work to be done to keep water from slipping through the cracks. I commend and support this work and hope it can help lead to real changes in the lives of the communities most affected by the water crisis.