Inside the Alternative World Water Forum
On March 16, I attended the Alternative World Water Forum. The Forum Alternatif Modial de L’Eau (‘FAME’ for short) is situated at the Dock des Suds, and my first impression upon arriving was how buzzing the place was. This was no ‘occupy’ movement of the kind you tend to see lately in your local city plaza attended by fewer than ten people, most of whom look like unwashed hippies. FAME, in contrast, was crowded. Approximately six different sessions ran at any given time, and there were enough translators and earphones to accommodate several languages. Whatever might be said about the political ideologies behind the event, the popularity and organization of it was impressive considering it relies entirely on donations for its funding.
The objective of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, also called Rio+20 to mark the 20 year anniversary from the first conference in this series, is to secure a renewed political commitment for sustainable development. The landmark Conference also aims to assess the progress and failures in global sustainable development to date. Among the successes are the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), among the failures are a lack of an international framework to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. As the largest global gathering of water professionals, the World Water Forum served as an important place to discuss goals for Rio. Sustainable development requires discussions about water in infrastructure, energy production, access, reuse and consumption. A number of panels were organized to facilitate the Rio discussion: Brazil’s Minister of Environment, Ms. Izabella Teixeira, delivered the Keynote speech at one such panel entitled “The Way Towards Rio+20”.
The Sixth World Water Forum has largely been an exercise in polite agreement. As a fly on the wall of any auditorium on the grounds of Parc Chanot, you would see a new combination of grey-faced experts shuffle in every two hours to expound upon the virtues of “good governance” or the importance of a stable regulatory environment to encourage financing. Bespectacled grey faces would nod in agreement. Serge Lepeltier favors coordination (credit: http://www.pdu-agglobourges.fr/)
With the departure of most firebrand activists to the Alternative Water Forum across town — set up to protest the supposed corporatization of water on display at WWF6 — avoidance of conflict has been the unwritten rule of engagement here. This hyper-aversion to conflict is confusing and dampening the effectiveness of the dialogue. Senior Water Economist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and WWF6 panelist, David Zetland has diagnosed the conference with “multiple priority disorder.” Dr. Zetland suggests that a passive, non-confrontational deadlock is created by organizers’ and participants’ aversion to conflict and their subsequent declaration of “co-equal goals”. “…And that’s just as retarded as having co-equal winners in the Super Bowl. Here they have a dozen goals, so they have way more than just two winners.” Prioritization of goals is necessary, however, given limited resources and time.
Yesterday the World Water Council (WWC), parent organization of the World Water Forum, led members of the press on a tour of the Forum’s “Village of Solutions.” The Village represents an innovative new platform that highlights the central theme of the sixth Forum – solutions. After the tour, WWC President Loic Fauchon was kind enough to speak with me about making the Village a reality at the Sixth Forum. A set of low, white structures lining a wood deck thoroughfare, the Village sits at the thematic and spatial center of the forum. It consists of seven sheltered exhibits: Library, Bank, City Hall, Factory, School, Slum and Agora. Each one represents a different element of a solution-oriented approach to thinking about the world’s water. The Village is populated by a set of 70 solutions, chosen from several thousand entries submitted to the globally-oriented and newly created online water solutions platform: solutionsforwater.org. The solutions represented at the conference are concrete, obviously workable and easily-replicated while producing measurable gains, explains Sonia Birki from the WWC President’s office. In keeping with the ancient traditions of the Mediterranean, the Agora sits at the center of the Village with an open-air town square and a coffee shop. Visitors mingle and meet to discuss their opinions. Large screens in the coffee shop display information from the various exhibits in the Village. Potted palms dot Main Street and define seating areas in front of and around the Agora. A line of dry toilets stands across from the Agora provides an opportunity for coffee drinkers to experience one more solution first hand.
I struggled through a number of ballet classes during my athletic career and consequently developed a healthy respect, if not an aversion, towards this physically demanding art. While living briefly in Russia, I had the privilege of witnessing Swan Lake at the Mussorgsky Ballet. After a few shots of Russian Standard as my aperitif, Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece was my entree. I was enthralled by lithe, agile bodies and engaging choreography. The dancers were performing for a discerning Russian audience, and their performance seemed to reflect the standards of the crowd. I was hooked. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to attend the World Premier of Ballet d’Europe’s H2O: Memories De L’eau, led by renowned choreographer, Jean-Charles Gil. Ballet d’Europe presented an astonishing, challenging and provocative production. Gil artfully fused the rough break-dance acrobatics of SisQuo and his team from Tangiers with the technical excellence of Ballet d’Europe. Set to the abstract and repetitive music of Laurent Perrier, the performance opened with hooded jumpsuit-clad dancers sliding onto the stage on lying flat on their backs. Their motions were abrupt and sharp, evoking the idea of something primitive and elemental. The anchored and halting motions of the Tangier break dancers stood in sharp separation to the vertical body language of the dancers of Ballet d’Europe, who soon entered. Gil explains that the heavy movements of the break-dancers symbolize oxygen atoms. These grounded motions contrast with the lighter hydrogen represented by the movements of ballet. As the first part progressed, the two distinct sets of dancers began to interact. Often three dancers moved together, representing the formation of water. These pairings would break apart and recombine with new combinations of dancers.
If you are a resident or a tourist in Marseille this week, you have probably noticed that not only are you surrounded by a beautiful Mediterranean port packed with water related industry and activities, but also by numerous exhibits celebrating the beauty of water. Art is an amazing way to communicate because it takes many shapes and forms while allowing people to interact in very personal ways. Art speaks. Art educates. Art can be in your face, shouting out at viewers as a huge sculpture, or subtly displayed in a corner shop, quietly awaiting the passerby. Currently, many interesting exhibits showcasing water are available throughout the city and Forum.
The student reporter team from the World Resources Forum in Davos came up with a comprehensive manual. It comprises the various perspectives from the editors and the student reporters including the 10 rules of student reporting, a collection of valuable resource websites, the steps to write posts, record and embedd videos and interviews, take pictures, etc… Though we realized that such a manual can be very helpful it still is a very static document and we are planning to provide video tutorials in the near future. The outcome of this great team effort is open for comments and support for ongoing improvement – enjoy reading. Student Reporter Manual_vApril2012
Memory is selective. The impressions that sticked to the minds of the participants of the WRF 2011 are starting to lose their tint. What will people remember in one year? And in five years? Personally, I will remember the presentation by Klaus Elle at the highlights session at the end of the first conference day.
Save the best for last: at the very end of the conference, I had the privilege of interviewing Bas de Leeuw, Managing Director of the World Resources Forum about my favourite topic: Event sustainability. As Bas has a quite impressive background and is a changemaker and environment lover himself, listen to the interview to hear what he has in mind in how to make this event a “green” one. Interview with Bas de Leeuw about the Carbon Footprint of the WRF2011 by Sandra Troegl by Studentreporter
I will link publications on the CO2 footprint of WRF 2009 and 2011 as soon as I get them – so watch out for updates!
Here’s the dirty secret behind my attendance at the World Resources Forum 2011: I caused 1.12 metric tons of CO2 emissions to come here from the US. (Roundtrip, all calculations from Carbonfootprint.com) Four hundred people have flown in from around the world for WRF2011; can we do enough good to outweigh our collective and individual carbon harms? From a personal carbon standpoint, flying is by far the worst thing I do to the atmosphere, followed by a distant 2nd of occasional driving. My estimated 2011 flying carbon footprint alone adds up to more than 6 metric tons. For comparison’s sake, the average U.K. citizen emits fewer than 10 metric tons of CO2 per year, and on average, each person in the world produces around 4 tons/year. How guilty am I of climate harm right now?
WRF 2011 has started and I am currently listening to the opening session. The goal of the conference has become clear: Delivering the immediately needed impact on resources management. The reason for this: change towards a more efficient use of resources and towards a closed circles economy is going to be a lot more difficult once shortness of resources has reached an even more alarming level than today. Some key facts of the opening speaches:
Commissioner Janez Potocnik mentioned the necessity of dematerializing Europe which is not the same thing as deindustrializing. According to him, shift towards efficient and sustainable resource management can only be achieved by using our industrial intelligence, engineering skills and intelligent policies. In contrast to the past: using them not only for material growth but for sustainable resources management.
Saturday afternoon 16:20, main train station of Zürich – “Are you from the Student Reporter group?”. Two smiles answer my question. I found two of the nine student reporters with who I’ll share a unique trip to the World Resources Forum (WRF) 2011 in Davos. After seeing pictures on facebook and hearing their voices at web conferences, it is nice to meet face to face. After sitting two hours together in the train and share dinner I already had the feeling of being part of a team.