On Monday 3 December, the Water and Climate Coalition organized a water session at the “Mountain Day” back to back with the COP18. The seminar, which was titled “Building resilience in mountain water resources and closing the gap between policy and implementation”, drew an audience of both observer organisations and party members, and sought to highlight the importance of integrating discussions on climate and water, and to close the gap between policy and implementation.
Karin Lexén of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and the Water and Climate Coalition Secretariat opened the session by stressing the need for taking local knowledge on water management into account in decision making on climate adaptation and mitigation. She also outlined the Water and Climate Coalition priorities for COP18 which included suggestions on a thematic initiative on water under the Nairobi Work Programme, and a greater emphasis on water resources management under the Loss and Damages Work Programme.
Fred Boltz of Conservation International provided participants with an overview over the challenges which climate change imposes on freshwater ecosystems. Mountain regions, which make up 1/3 of the global surface, hold 2/3 of all freshwater resources. As such they are supporting the world population with water. Considering that climate change brings changes in water availability and variability, preserving freshwater ecosystems is key to climate resilience. In particular, Fred stressed the need for infrastructure to be flexible to climatic variation and to be designed so as not to disrupt ecosystems.
Mats Eriksson, also from SIWI, has previously worked in the Himalaya region. In his presentation he brought up the crucial issue of flood mitigation infrastructure. An often overlooked measure, many of the structures put in place are not adapted to local conditions and are poorly maintained and governed. This can have disastrous consequences – one example is the breach of embankments in Koshi Basin in 2008, an accident which killed 7000 people and displaced another 3,6 million. In order to create infrastructure that better protects lives and livelihoods, Mats highlighted the need to build on local knowledge and to strengthen capacities in order to ensure good and transparent governance.
“If the glaciers disappear, Pakistan is heading for disaster”. Those were the words of Pervaiz Amir of the Global Water Partnership and the Pakistan delegation to the UNFCCC. Pakistan is relying heavily on mountain water resources, and is as such vulnerable to climate change. It is estimated that the country’s water resources will decrease by 40% until 2050/2060 due to climate change. Pervaiz pointed out that there is a small number of countries in the world which are particularly vulnerable and needs support in order to be able to adapt to climate change. This is reflected in the UNFCCC process, which Pervaiz describes as “frustration with hope”.
Bai-Maas Taal of AMCOW warned that this event is speaking to the already converted, and that discussions on science and policy need to move out from side events and back to back seminars and into the UNFCCC process. He urged for the outcomes from today’s seminar to be transmitted to the negotiators at COP18. We cannot work in silos, and science needs to be translated into political language in order to be adopted in decision making.
This day might have been dedicated to mountains, but when it comes to water the world is interconnected. As Bai-Maas tall pointed out: The small island states struggling with rising sea levels might experience climate change very differently to mountain regions. But sea level rise is a consequence of melting glaciers. The world is facing a common challenge, and we should all speak with one voice.