Circle of Blue’s Keith Schneider examines the Bangkok and Barcelona conferences to understand why water’s been pulled from climate negotiations. Schneider also talks with an advocate who’s determined to put water back on the table.
BARCELONA (November 4, 2009) — Last month, when participants in Bangkok concluded another of the international negotiating sessions on climate change, a group of water policy specialists believed they were making progress. The Bangkok meeting concluded with the publication of a specialized report on the proceedings, known in United Nations’ language as Non-Paper 8, that included a number of statements about linking the global freshwater crisis to the climate crisis.
By directly joining the warming planet and its steadily melting, flooding, and drying landscape the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change was also taking the first steps to establishing common financial, policy and management solutions. The intent of the authors of Non-Paper 8 passage was clear: Fix the climate problem and a number of the planet’s big water problems would also be solved.
But just days before the start of this week’s five-day meeting on climate change in Barcelona, the UNFCCC released a new draft of Non-Paper 8, re-titled with the catchy name Non-Paper 31. When water advocates pored through it they discovered that every single mention of the word “water” had been deleted. In essence, water had been scrubbed from the climate negotiations.
In an interview with Circle of Blue today, Karin Lexén, a project director with the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), one of Europe’s top water research and policy groups, described the consequences of the missing word.
“We’re fighting here in Barcelona to get the references to water back in the text,” she said. “Otherwise it’s a hidden issue within this process. It isn’t getting the attention it deserves in the climate talks and that means that it won’t be on the agenda for action. There’s too many people affected to allow that to happen.”
Lexén, a 44-year-old environmental chemist and mother of two teenagers from Stockholm, is part of a small team of water advocates who’ve launched a campaign to push the global water crisis higher on the list of priorities within the U.N. climate action process.
Next month, negotiators meet in Copenhagen to try and finish a new climate treaty, but delays caused largely by ideological differences in Washington are making that an increasingly difficult goal to achieve.
Lexén and her fellow water advocates here in Barcelona say they want to finish a new climate treaty in December, but the delay may be a blessing. It affords her more time to make the case that the water crisis merits formal consideration in the final text of the new climate treaty.
Last summer, the annual World Water Week, which Lexen’s organization manages in Stockholm, concluded with a statement that urged climate negotiators to ensure that “a strong and fair agreement on future global commitments on climate change measures—both mitigation and adaptation—is crucial in order to secure future water resource availability.”
This week Lexen helped organize a day-long Water Day conference in Barcelona to further explore the links between freshwater and the climate crisis.
She noted that while diplomats and scientists working on the new treaty are trying to push water aside, that is not the case with the world’s people.
In August, Circle of Blue and the Toronto- and London-based GlobesScan, a public opinion survey firm, released the first global survey of public attitudes about freshwater.
Some 15,000 people were polled in 15 countries. According to the survey, people around the world view water pollution as the most important facet of the freshwater crisis; shortages of freshwater are very close behind. Concern about both issues tended to be higher in developing countries than in developed nations. In each country access to and contamination of freshwater ranked higher than any other environmental concern, including climate change.
“To me it’s a matter of justice,” said Lexén. “We’re trying to do what we can to safeguard a future not just if you’re rich, but also for the poorest. It was big luck for me to be born in Sweden in a country with a lot of wealth. It’s big luck for my children to be born in a country with a lot of wealth. How would it have been for me and my children to be born in Bengladesh, a poor nation? To me it’s an ethical issue.”
Circle of Blue’s senior editor and chief correspondent based in Traverse City, Michigan. He has reported on the contest for energy, food, and water in the era of climate change from six continents. Contact