By Adv Tanya Chandra, Co-Founder, LexQuest.

While the tussle between the developed and the developing world continues to impede any concrete resolutions on the issue of climate change, the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) at Paris, witnessed the adoption of The Pact on Water and Climate Change Adaptation.

Given the ever deteriorating state of our water systems, as the spectre of a global water crisis keeps getting bigger, the Pact aims to make water systems more resilient to climate impacts. This first of its kind initiative comes under the aegis of the Water Resilience Focus event, which is a part of the Lima to Paris Action Agenda (LPAA).

ABOUT THE LPAA:

The LPAA is a joint undertaking of the Peruvian and the French COP Presidencies, the Office of the Secretary General of the UN and the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat to create a global platform for both state & non-state actors in order to strengthen and accelerate cooperative climate action and to build more climate resilient societies, especially by marshaling robust global action for low carbon production.

It was launched at the Lima Climate Conference in December 2014, acknowledging the need to diversify and enhance the engagement of various stakeholders for successful formulation of concrete cooperative initiatives, addressing various aspects of climate change.

The Water Resilience Focus initiative of the LPAA followed in the wake of the growing vulnerability of our water resources as a result of climate change. As ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water is now a part of the the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), prioritising the need to make our water systems resilient through dedicated efforts is an absolute necessity. At the 21st COP, this event managed to mobilize the relevant stakeholders into action with the successful adoption of the Paris Pact on Water and Climate Change Adaptation.

THE PARIS PACT:

The Pact comprises a combination of collaborative and individual project commitments which involve a wide coalition of over 290 national & cross border river basin organisations, national as well as local governments, funding agencies, companies and the civil society. The Pact aims to make water systems, the very foundation of sustainable human development, more resilient to climate impact.

With an estimated cost of $20 million for technical assistance and over $1 billion for financing, the various collaborative projects under the Pact have time bound implementation agenda.

As some of the major Asian (including India), South American and African countries are collaborating to upgrade the management and efficiency of their water resources, these projects can  provide the necessary fillip the developing world needs in order to effectively counter the depletion of its water bodies.

MAJOR PROJECT COMMITMENTS:

One of the most significant financial commitments has been made by India wherein, it has pledged to build climate resilience through improved groundwater management. While groundwater remains the most preferred source of freshwater in India, its indiscriminate extraction, especially in the irrigation sector has led to an alarmingly high rate of depletion. The drastic alteration of various weather phenomena as a result of the climate change adds on to the problem by decreasing the possibility of groundwater recharge through precipitation and surface water interactions. What further complicates this issue is the fact that due to highly uneven distribution and usage of groundwater in India, no single management strategy can be extended to the whole country.

Therefore, while India’s recent commitment in this direction is a commendable first step, it will now have to chalk out a foolproof mechanism to ensure that this financial commitment leads to fruitful end results in the long run.

China’s three year commitment in association with France, to improve the management of Hai river basin is another noteworthy collaboration. The Hai river basin covers areas of North China that include cities like Beijing and Tianjin. Earlier this year, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) assisted the Chinese government in a collaborative effort, to improve the water management of the Hai river basin in response to the changing needs of the ecosystem. As the country remains prone to droughts, the issue of water scarcity has been further aggravated due to the rising levels of water pollution, which is why the effective management of its river systems is of paramount importance to China.

The new project commitment under the Paris Pact can therefore align its strategies in a way that complements all earlier efforts to improve the management of this river system.

While Asian commitments intend to protect and upgrade their major water resources, African collaborations under the Pact aim at preserving their limited water resources, as the continent remains one of the major victims of any drastic changes in the world climate. In this regard, a 10 year investment plan, involving 9 African countries to strengthen climate resilience in the Niger basin is a decisive move. As the topographical make up of Africa deprives it of too many drainage systems, the Niger river basin is the lifeblood of many West African economies. However, the development and upgradation of climate resilient infrastructure in the Niger basin remains incomplete for want of financial and technical aid.

Thus the collaboration under the Paris Pact, can provide the necessary financial assistance to accelerate an efficient and climate resilient system in the Niger basin.

In another significant financial commitment, the French Development Agency (AFD) pledged to launch a hydrological and meteorological monitoring programme, in the Congo basin of Central Africa, which will benefit over 160 million people living in the region. The second largest river system of Africa, is not only the site for vast tropical forests but is also a key factor regulating climate change and stabilising the ecosystem. Hence, understanding the hydrology of this region is a significant part of developing effective counter measures for climate change.

Similarly in South America, program Eco Cuencas (which stands for River Basins and Financial Redistribution in Practice, an initiative to address the issue of financing of River Basin Organisations in Latin America) brought Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia together, along with the European Commission to develop a financial mechanism for adaptation to climate change in river basins within a period of 3 years.

While majority of the projects undertaken, are in the form of direct interventions for better water resource management vis a vis climate change, a few others focus on indirect measures to upgrade the water systems’ climate resilience.

The most significant of such interventions is the collaboration of 6 Mediterranean countries namely Jordan, Lebanon, Monaco, Morocco, Spain and Tunisia to assess the state and trends of their water resources for a period of 7 years through the assistance of the European Commission.

This collaboration materialized through the Mediterranean Water Knowledge Platform, which aims to strengthen the capacities of the Mediterranean basin countries, to produce valuable data on the status and usage of water resources, thereby focussing on the need to optimize planning and water management in the context  of climate change.

Another commitment on indirect intervention comes from a project in Morocco, which will aim at increasing the resilience of agricultural sector through improved irrigation practice.

ROAD AHEAD:

Though most projects undertaken and commitments pledged for, under the Pact, have specific and time bound targets to attain, how effectively would these collaborations work towards the same, remains to be seen.

While financial commitments from a wide range of financial agencies such as the World Bank, African Development Fund (ADF), Global Environment Facility (GEF), International Development Association (IDA) etc. should be able to meet the monetary requirements of most of the projects, but if and when such assistance falls short of funds it will be highly detrimental to the fate of such projects. For example, in the aftermath of a civil war or a natural disaster such funds may be diverted for financing rehabilitation and reconstruction projects, rather than fulfilling any prior commitments towards the environment.  Moreover, in the absence of a regulatory and supervisory body or mechanism to keep a check on the progress and status of the projects, the probability that some of these promises might spiral into liabilities for the committing countries, in turn being shirked off completely, cannot be entirely rebuffed.

However, despite all its shortfalls, the Paris Pact on Water and Climate Change Resilience has undoubtedly built upon innovative, detailed and  well thought of ideas, that stem from the fact that the state of our water resources, especially in the developing parts of the world (which are more vulnerable to the adversities of climate change than the developed peas of the pod) needs to be upgraded urgently.

Given that only a fraction of all water on earth is fit for the sustenance of human life, accelerated rate of its depletion as a consequence of climate change, is a challenge that has to be dealt with effectively, in a time bound manner, so that what caused human life to flourish on this planet may not cause its end.