At a breakfast meeting last Tuesday Mr. Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP, shared his thoughts on the role of water in the green economy with the Swedish Water House network.
The concept of "green economy" is not always clear to everyone. Mr. Steiner however urged us not to get stuck on a definition, but underlined that the green economy is more a set of principles for how economies should develop in order to sustain a sustainable development. This can be done through many different avenues, fiscal and policy reform to stimulate renewable energy are just a few, as is payment for ecosystem services. It entails a range of delicate challenges, such as how to achieve a policy change in parliaments, or achieving economic development in countries where people don’t even have basics rights in place. The idea that a country must develop first and only then worry about the environment is a fallacy. Mr. Steiner emphasized the importance of moving beyond the North and South opposition, and bringing the green economy discussion to the core of sustainable development.
Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP. Photo: Ann-Mari Karlsson
Water has many roles in the economy. The way that natural resources are used always affects people very differently and so equity issues are central to water management. At the Rio+20 conference in June, Mr. Steiner hopes that sectors will stop looking at how to capture and manage "their" particular resource against the interests of others, and instead start linking different users of water and to look at the entire hydrological flow to discuss how these flows should be managed.
Policymakers now need ripe advice on how to move forward with economies in light of the environmental state of the world. Mr. Steiner pointed out that it is difficult for decision makers to navigate in the cacophony of voices on biodiversity issues today. Rio will, among other things, discuss the Millennium Development Goals and whether they should be followed up with a set of Sustainable Development Goals to be reinstated for every country. But how to formulate these goals, should we define each domain according to water, forests, mountains, e.t.c or should we take a systemic approach based on the interconnected nature of these domains? While Mr. Steiner warned against too much fragmentation, parts of the audience pointed out that water as a prerequisite for the functioning of all other domains should have its own role in the sustainability goals.
by Ann-Mari Karlsson, Swedish Water House