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Published on 02/12/2016

COP 22 – Water: a key issue

COP 22 ended on 18 November in Marrakech; GRET takes a look at one of the main subjects discussed: water. What progress has been made by climatic governance in this sector? And what are the options for improving the resilience of development policies? In Touch answers these questions.

The role of water in the COP: from the Rio Summit to COP 22 in Marrakech

COP 22 in Marrakech was in line with 25 years of global climate governance, for which the milestones were posed during the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Since then, States have refined their comprehension of climatic evolutions, recognised the role of humans and designed mechanisms aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Carbon Market, REDD+, etc.).

The Paris agreement, adopted at the end of COP 21 last December, marked a major turning point. It recorded the commitment of all States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global warming below two degrees between now and 2100. It also made it possible to better highlight the importance of adaptation to climate change and to lay the bases of financial solidarity of wealthy countries with poor countries, whose mechanisms have yet to be materialised.

In this context, and given its major role in terms of adaptation1, we can question the degree of focus given to the water sector in these negotiations. It is clear that discussions on sectoral issues are lagging behind in the respective COP. Water stakeholders regretted that, at the end of COP 21, this sector was not mentioned in the Paris Agreement itself.

In Marrakech, there was strong attendance by the water sector and Morocco, the host country, strove to make significant room for the issue of water in the discussions. An official day devoted to water was held in the blue zone. Initiatives by non-state players on water were numerous and there were a number of side workshops and conferences throughout COP 22 featuring feedback, presentation of experiences and solutions by civil society organisations, local authorities, research stakeholders and companies. As was the case at COP 21, GRET contributed by providing its experience as field operator on several subjects: the specific issue of the protection of water resources in island territories, obstacles faced by local stakeholders for the implementation of the Paris Agreement in the area of water, etc. This being said, very few negotiators from the blue zone came to “check out” the green zone; there are also significant gaps between the wealth of debates in this forum and the fact that the texts produced by the conference did not give greater consideration to sectoral issues. The solution will remain, for several years to come, with the investment of the many non-state players focusing on these issues.

At the end of COP 22, the overall results are mixed: this was supposed to be “the COP for action” and the “COP for Africa”. Faced with these two promises, the work achieved by this conference seems incomplete. On the first point, the expected framework for implementation and monitoring of the Paris Agreement is envisaged, but its definition was postponed until 2018. On the second point, vulnerable States and African countries were very present in the debates and continue to drive the issue of adaptation, but they had difficulty shifting the focus to the crux of the matter: international aid to fund adaptation in countries. Apart from the last-minute financial effort of certain countries to replenish the Adaptation fund (80 million dollars for 2017), no notable progress was observed on the materialisation of financial commitments (100 billion dollars by 2020).
However, it should be noted that certain subjects led by GRET and a number of partners during COP 21 were well represented in discussions: the role of governance, and the issue of strengthening capacities, for which terms of reference and funding mechanisms were presented (especially by the Green climate fund and the Agence française de développement).

Conditions to improve the resilience of development policies in the area of water

The implementation of policies and action plans in the area of water is mainly carried out by local stakeholders, as water and sanitation skills are being increasingly decentralised to local level. The capacities of these stakeholders need to be strengthened in order for them to conduct their missions. As recalled by the mayor of Boghé (a long-standing partner of GRET in Mauritania) at COP 22, very few local authorities in the Sahel region have a technical department and planning documents. In this context, the integration of climate projections is not easy. It is necessary to pay greater heed to what local stakeholders in developing countries are saying and to understand their requirements in order to envisage appropriate mechanisms, whether financial or operational. This difficulty also explains why the vast majority of climate funding today is aimed at mitigation in countries with intermediary income levels and neglect Africa, whereas vulnerability is much greater in the latter.

A second avenue of reflection: coordination of climate and sectoral policies. Currently, adaptation policies and plans are mainly designed at national level with very little consultation with sectoral stakeholders and are, with the exception of certain large capital cities, rarely rolled out at local level. There is therefore a challenge to be met in reconciling both levels and both sectors – that of adaptation to climate change and that of water – so that adaptation policies actually reach the field. Consultation during the definition of these policies, as well as tools and mechanisms to facilitate this reconciliation, must be proposed.

Lastly, adaptation in the area of water can be achieved via the improvement of knowledge. GRET welcomes the renewal of interest in this crucial issue at COP 22. Territories that are vulnerable to climate change are often spaces in which knowledge on water resources is deficient. There is also a requirement to reduce uncertainties relating to climate projections and their impact on water resources as much as possible; this requires greater coordination between deciders, practicians & researchers, and the definition of regional models. But the issues are not just technical, and uncertainties will remain significant: to avoid them generating inaction, water stakeholders must be supported to learn and manage these uncertainties and to define their own vision of local adaptation policies. GRET will play its part in this new project, in particular by organising a day in 2017 to focus on the subject of: “Water and climate: when research speaks to practicians.”

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