The title of this session was “Green Growth: No Nature, No Water, No Growth.” When one contemplates the topic of green growth as it relates to both human innovation and ‘nature’, a compassionate thinker might also imagine what a rabbit or dolphin might say about its plight if it could speak about the associated ‘nature’ descriptor of this session theme. While this session unfortunately did not incorporate a dolphin or bunny agenda, there were fortunately strong messages conveyed which described the need for transparency, restraint, and partnership. The theme of this year’s session was ‘solutions.’ This theme pushes people to discuss how to accomplish agreed-upon goals instead of continuing to identify the same problems repeatedly. Several speakers peppered talk of the upcoming Rio+20 conference into their discussion on the challenges of solving future water-related problems from intensifying demand. Speaker Han Man-Hee from the Republic of Korea spoke to the highest priority need by saying “after most basic elements, the happiness of humanity” is most important.
Important topics identified for discussion throughout the week include: Investment, Sharing, Natural Solutions, Creating efficiency
1. Investment. A big discussion topic was considering the role of the private sector to drive investment and determine how to best develop public/private partnerships to solve problems. Sylvie Lemmet with UNEP reported that there is an estimated $200 billion/year gap in what is currently needed for present investment to improve ecological services and efficiency. Ecological services are the benefits derived from naturally occurring ecosystems which maintain a healthy balance while inherently creating ecological goods such as clean air and water. The estimated investment needed to improve ecological services was reported by Ms. Lemmet to be just 0.16% of world GDP. Some people think that governments could certainly commit funds to meeting this goal. Efficiency and good investment means that better governance and policy are needed globally.
2. Sharing. Kitty Van der Heljden, of the Netherlands Ministry for Foreign Affairs, suggests that to share resources more effectively, it is important to determine which regions could better use resources. An interesting idea is figuring out how to compensate one less profitable, high intensity use agricultural region and instead allow resources to meet the needs of a potentially more profitable region. When one water source flows through several political boundaries, the ownership of water must often be agreed upon and negotiated through contracts to ensure needs are met. Sometimes as agricultural regions evolve downstream, the climate and soil quality, which would provide higher output, would be better suited to a higher allocation of water. Contracts may be worked out to accomodate these needs so that if the downstream areas are making higher profits, then upstream areas might be compensated for giving up some water rights.
3. Natural Solutions. In addition, using naturally available low-cost resources like wetlands to filter and protect water quality and prevent flooding is compatible with green growth and inexpensive investment. By allowing beneficial natural environmental filters to remain or by establishing new low-cost ecological areas like wetlands, there are both environmental and economic benefits.
4. Creating Efficiency. Innovation is also important, but cultural shifts may prove more useful in order to promote restraint that would have a larger impact, according to Ravi Narayanan, Chairman for the Water Integrity Network. Expensive technologies do not help small farmers who cannot afford to access them in order to create better water use efficiency. Sylvie Lemment of UNEP articulated that efficiency gains are the low hanging fruit and committing to do more with both water reuse and drip irrigation for agriculture use and setting reachable goals would provide a substantial improvement. Reaching for a few overall big-impact water use efficiencies would drive quantifiable, real change.
These topics are just a few of the overarching goals among many important themes at the World Water Forum. It will be interesting to find out what comes out of high level meetings during this forum and Rio+20 later this year.