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Interventions at the UN High Level International Conference on Water

The International Decade for Action, Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028
Dushanbe, Tajikistan
June 20-22, 2018

Stéphane Dion
Ambassador of Canada to Germany and
Special Envoy to the European Union and Europe

Plenary remarks on behalf of Canada: A Partner for Water Management

Distinguished co-chairs, excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen.

As Prime Minister Trudeau’s Special Envoy, I came to this prestigious conference to affirm first and foremost that Canada is willing to help develop a comprehensive engagement on water, including with the five Central Asian republics, including with Tajikistan, the proud initiator of the Decade for Action.

We offer partnership for action, including for disaster risk reduction and trans-boundary management. Canada is keen to share its positive experience with water management both internally and along and across its borders with the United States. We are willing to share our expertise in water-related technologies and services. Canada wants to share lessons learned, inspire innovation and increase the availability of science and data.

We understand that, in order to be a reliable international partner, we must be exemplary at home. And so, we are making significant investments in water sustainability, science, protecting marine and coastal areas, we are joining other countries in banning plastic microbeads. Prime Minister Trudeau has chosen among the priorities for the last G7, sustainable fisheries and coasts; water scientific cooperation; pollution tracking and reducing plastics. Canada’s new Feminist International Assistance Policy is aimed to enhance the role of women and girls, including in water management. We are investing 2.65 billion dollars to support developing countries to tackle climate change.

Canada will honour its Paris commitment to decrease its GHGs emissions, as all countries should, because otherwise climate change will continue to cause rising sea levels, salinization of land and water, extreme weather disasters, glaciers melting, acidification and alterations in seawater chemistry and in fisheries ecology.

Canada intends to be part of the solution in a world where water management is the challenge of the century. The World Economic Forum ranked water crisis as the top global risk to industry and society over the next decade. As the United Nations said, “Sustainable management of water and sanitation underpins wider efforts to end poverty, advance sustainable development and sustain peace and stability”.

However, the United Nations also said that at the current rate, the world is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’ global water targets by 2030.

Without concerted action, not only will the Sustainable Development Goals be unachievable, but where cooperation has been the norm in the past, water could increasingly lead to conflict in the future.

Canada – everyone here – will not accept that. We’ll cooperate and pull together our efforts to provide to the generations to come – our children, our grandchildren – a sustainable future. Canada, the country blessed with a fifth of the world’s freshwater, with the longest coastline in the world by far, Canada will be your partner.

Up to 60 percent of the human adult body is water. About 71 percent of the Earth's surface is water-covered. As much as our life is, our future depends on a water-secured world.

Keynote speech at the Action Panel on Water-Related Partnership for Action: Will Water Management Remain a Source of Peace?

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, globally there are 263 watersheds that cross the political boundaries of two or more countries, representing about half of the earth’s land surface and 40 percent of global population. Throughout the world, states must regularly make choices and decisions about water management, which will affect another state. For example, water shortages could be addressed through irrigation improvement in one country, but to the disadvantage of countries downstream, especially if without a keen attention to a conflict-sensitive approach or a proper cooperation.

By emphasizing scientific inquiry and sound governance mechanisms, shared water management can create opportunities to build stronger relationships. Rather than seek selfish ends separately, states can pursue a common good jointly.  

Let me start with the good news: over the last 60 years, more than 300 international water agreements have been reached, compared to only 37 reported disputes between states in regard to water. The evidence is clear that cooperation on shared waters helps build mutual respect, understanding and trust among countries and promote peace, security and regional economic growth.  However, the questions for our panel are: will the positive experiences of the past be a good predictor of the future?

Will water continue to be the basis for cooperation for peace, or, to the contrary, a major source of tension and conflict?

While water-related disputes between states have typically been resolved through diplomatic channels, will it still be the case in the face of increasingly amplified water challenges?

At the core of the answer to these questions is the theme of our panel: will we succeed to significantly improve our water-related partnerships?

Challenges around freshwater management, although already immense, will only grow. In 2016, the World Economic Forum ranked water crises as the top global risk to industry and society over the next decade. Globally, water demand is projected to exceed sustainable supply by 40 percent as early as 2030. The OECD estimates that by 2050, 4 billion people could be living in water scarce areas (twice more people than today), and extreme flood losses could more than double in frequency. A recent World Bank study has determined that poor water management and climate change could reduce GDP by as much as 14 percent in the Middle East, 12 percent in the Sahel, and 11 percent in Central Asia. Total plastics in the oceans could outweigh fish by 2050.

Climate change impacts are often water-related: increasing floods, more severe droughts, higher storm surges, melting sea ice and glaciers, rising sea levels and salinization of land and water, acidification and alterations in seawater chemistry and in fisheries ecology.

Feeding a planet of 9 billion people in 2050 will require an estimated 50 percent increase in food production. How can we do this with poor water management? Seventy percent of water consumption is used for irrigation; irrigated agriculture accounts for approximately 40 percent of global food production.  

Global energy demand is expected to be 30 percent higher by 2040 – so in just over 20 years from now – according the International Energy Agency.  And in saying this, let us keep in mind that around 90 percent of sources of energy (including electricity) require water in their production processes.

In 2007, the United Nations Office for the High Commission on Human Rights declared that access to safe water and sanitation is a human right. But today, 2.1 billion people are lacking safely managed drinking water services;  2.3 billion people are lacking basic sanitation services; half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from water-borne illness; 80 percent of watershed is discharged without treatment; floods and other water-related disasters account for 70 percent of all natural disaster deaths; over half of the developing world’s primary schools lack access to water and sanitation facilities; 70 per cent of the world’s natural wetland has been lost; between a third and a half of fish stocks are being overexploited or depleted; invasive alien species are proliferating. 

Without concerted action to address these challenges, not only will the Sustainable Development Goals be unachievable, but where cooperation has been the norm in the past, water could increasingly lead to conflict in the future.

The 2007-2010 droughts in Syria were the worst droughts on record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centres. A United Nations Development Programme report found that nearly 75 percent of farmers in northeastern Syria experienced total crop failure and herders lost 85 percent of their livestock. Another United Nations report found that more than 800 thousand Syrians lost their entire livelihoods as a result of the droughts. Of course, it would be simplistic to say that these droughts caused the Syrian civil war. But water problems, when combined with poverty, social and ideological tensions, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions, will contribute to social disruptions that can result in state failure and conflict. And we know that climate change will increase the severity of droughts and other disruptive natural phenomena.

Climate change is a risk amplifier for security, as argued in a G7 report called A New Climate for Peace. Climate change will increase risks of conflict over natural resources, risk of migration crises, risk of food insecurity and hunger, and risk of coastal degradation: some 147 to 216 million people live on land that will be below the sea level or regular flood levels by the end of the century.

Take the region in which we are, severely affected by the shrinking of the Aral Sea during the Soviet period. And now climate change is increasingly compounding water scarcity in Central Asia and has contributed to the rapid shrinking of Tajikistan’s glaciers. The glaciers are the sources for Central Asia rivers, and these in turn are an economic source for Tajikistan, which is seeking to develop its hydroelectric output. Some of these countries depend almost entirely on man-made irrigation for their water needs. The most part of their supply comes from transboundary sources.

And so, it is good news that Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are progressing towards an agreement on the Rogun Dam project, and that Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic recently signed a major border agreement. Transboundary cooperation is key for the security of the region and for its ability to address its growing water and climate issues.

The acceleration of climate change, the increased frequency of drought and flooding, the increasing variation in water flows, the growing volume of hydro generation necessary for agriculture, energy production and human consumption are all conspiring to make access to water, water management and water security a critical global challenge.

Clearly, unilateral action by governments or private entities cannot address these increasingly complex issues of water management. To achieve a water-secured world, we will need all water users to share the resource in a more coordinated and sustainable way.

Today, we are ill-equipped for that. Of the world’s 263 international water basins, 158 lack any type of cooperative framework. At current rates of implementation, most countries will not meet the Sustainable Development Goals’ target to provide to themselves, by 2030, an Implement Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). According the United Nations, countries reported barriers to reaching such an agreement, due to lack of political will; power asymmetries; fragmented national legal, institutional and administrative frameworks; lack of financial, human and technical capacity; heavy endemic corruption; and poor data availability, especially in relation to transboundary aquifers and their boundaries. We will not properly address issues like up-stream – down-stream troubled politics with poorly planned and decaying water management systems, with wasteful and inefficient irrigation and with endemic water shortages. States will need more responsive and accountable state institutions, openness and transparency and civil society and citizen involvement.

Governance at global, regional and national levels lies at the heart of water management. Canada wants to offer its expertise in this domain, but also learn from other countries. Canada wants to increase the opportunities of partnerships through its new Feminist International Assistance Policy, which aims is to enhance the role of women and girls, including in water management, and through its 2.65 billion dollars investments to support developing countries to tackle climate change. We are ready to identify new strategic partnership opportunities with other countries, international organizations, other donners and the private sector. Canada has a strong water technology and services sector, which is export ready. As Prime Minister Trudeau did at the G7, this very month, Canada will enhance recognition of water as a global priority in key fora because we understand the importance and need for global cooperation.

And we are happy to share our experience in transboundary cooperation and hydroelectric projects. There are ways to strengthen dispute resolution mechanisms in shared international basins. Canada and the United States have managed their shared waters cooperatively and peacefully for more than 100 years. Our transboundary basins with the United States are home to the majority of our population. Our two countries have a history of effective cooperation on issues affecting our shared waters. We manage our transboundary water through a number of mechanisms for cooperation including bilateral treaties, agreements and other types of instruments.

Most notably, the International Joint Commission, established by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909.  The IJC is an independent and objective adviser to the two countries, which works to prevent and resolve disputes concerning water quantity and quality. To fulfil its mandate, the IJC issues Orders of Approval for projects affecting shared waters; regulates the operation of certain projects; alerts governments to emerging issues; and undertakes studies at the request of Canada and the U.S. On both sides of the border, the IJC is a respected organization with a track record of effectiveness and engagement with local communities.

The IJC relies on scientific research, it consults, it builds consensus, seek public participation, engages local governments and indigenous peoples; its work is quiet, methodological and crucial, and its impact, critical. The IJC is setting an example of cooperation for the world to follow.

Canada and the United States also manage our transboundary waters through a number of other bilateral cooperation mechanisms such as memoranda of understanding and statements of cooperation, often at the sub-federal level. For example, in 2016, British Columbia and Alaska signed a Statement of Cooperation on the protection of transboundary waters, to enhance water quality monitoring. 

Through bilateral relationships and proper use of multilateral organizations, there are ways to provide tangible international security benefits.

So, let’s cooperate and pull together our efforts to provide to the generations to come a sustainable future. Canada, the country blessed with a fifth of the world’s freshwater and with the longest coastline in the world, by far, Canada wants to learn from you and be your partner in our search for peaceful, exemplary water governance.

Chair’s speech at the Action Panel on Vulnerable People Including for Refugees and Migrants: Water for Each Home

Excellencies, distinguished panellists, ladies and gentlemen, in the description that brought us all here today, at this panel titled “Water for Vulnerable People Including for Refugees and Migrants” we are invited to focus “on the linkages between water, poverty, and migration” and to discuss strategies to improve water security.

There are two ways to respond to this request.  The first one is to identify the means in which to bring sufficient clean water to the vulnerable people, refugees and migrants of today.  On our panel, we have experts who will speak to this pressing need.  But the other angle that we should discuss is how to prevent a world afflicted by increasing water scarcity.  So, there is a pressing need, and a worrying trend.

In my introduction remarks, I will focus on the worrying trend, and the efforts we need to mobilize in order to prevent it.

According to the World Water Development report, there is “a clear connection between water scarcity and food insecurity, social instability and social unrest, which in turn can trigger and intensify migration around the world.”  As such, this connection is nothing new: as noticed by the International Organization for Migration, “the interaction between environmental change and migration has been a universal phenomenon since the beginning of human kind.”  But what is new this time is the severity and abruptness of these water scarcity challenges, aggravated and intensified by man-made climate change.

It is difficult to identify the precise extent to which the increasing water scarcity is the cause of the current migrant surge, as opposed to political or social causes, so much that these factors are intertwined.  But one may try to make an estimation. 

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, it is estimated that 25 million people per year are forced from their homes, nationally or internationally, due to anthropogenic natural disasters.  By 2050, that number may be pushed from 50 to 700 million people. Between 50 and 700: you noticed the unusual discrepancy in the forecast. It is very difficult to foresee the effect of climate change, but also our capacity as human beings to react properly and implement strategies and policies that will best address water security in the world.  So much depends on us. 

First and foremost, we need to help the people to stay put. We need to preserve the conditions that will allow them to stay home and avoid forced displacement.  But should they have to move, we have to help, offering effective integration policies to support their adaptation to their new country.  As a multicultural country, Canada is willing to share its experience in the integration of populations from every community, in our society.

One thing that must be done is addressing water security hotspots.  Some 40 percent of the world’s landmass can be classified as dryland, at risk of desertification, where 2 billion people currently live.  Many of these people are on the fringe of being severely affected by soil degradation, food insecurity, poverty and shortage of arable land. Desertification may lead to massive induced migration if we do not act collectively with the proper policies.

The list of what we need to do is compelling: honour our Paris commitments for greenhouse gas reductions, honour our commitments for each and every SDG - notably those linked to water and poverty, fight desertification and deforestation, and above all cooperate and pull together our efforts. In other words, we should do what each of our panelists today, will be urging our states – the world – to do. This panel is referenced by the organisers of this conference as an action panel, so let’s act together to provide future generations, a sustainable future, built on water security for all. Water for each home.

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Date Modified:
2018-07-06