Water in the Context of Rio+20

-Rachel Briggs

The World Water Forum is organized by the World Water Council, an exclusive group of global water elites—it is not a United Nations process. However, a variety of groups are working to build connections between the Forum and the upcoming Rio+20 conference. Rio+20, falling twenty years after the first Earth Summit in Brazil, is a UN conference focused on Sustainable Development. The specific foci of Rio are the green economy in the context of poverty eradication and framework for environmental governance—and although water is not specifically mentioned in these goals it is a critical element of both.

Various sessions at the WWF have focused on this connection, and panels have been called upon to offer their thoughts on how the two conferences can connect. Yesterday Izabella Teixeira, Brazil’s Minister of the Environment, shared that Brazil is planning a very explicit integration of the two. Between the final preparatory commission and the Rio conference itself,  Brazil will be hosting a series of round table dialogues between governments and civil society—unprecedented in the Commission on Sustainable Development. These round tables will focus on nine key issues related to sustainable development—including water and oceans. Both Teixeira and the President of the Forum, Ben Braga mentioned another element of this connection: The WWF text will feed directly into this Rio process.

Integrating  water into questions of sustainable development  both excites and terrifies to me.   Water is crucial to agriculture and industry, to sustaining the natural resources that form the basis of our economies. Therefore, any form of development—especially sustainable development—is dependent  upon sound water policy. However, the discussions thus far indicate that integrating water into sustainable development also presents an opportunity to reaffirm the notion of water as an economic good—this means that we will continue to distribute water through the market rather than based on need. Also, the WWF severely limits input to their text—only ministers and invited groups get to contribute. Feeding such a biased, one-dimensional text into a global process by-passes opportunities for input and shatters transparency. Assimilating this text into Rio gives an exaggerated platform to the already privileged voices of industry and government.

On the plus side, there seems to be a lot of energy and ambition in the buildup to Rio. Speakers from NGOs, the Brazilian government, and the UN all expressed a desire for action outcomes and for attention to equity as well as obligations. With the ambition and energy  I have witnessed, I hope that the nexus between the WWF and Rio+20 can be fruitful.

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