Creating Shared Value Global Forum 2014: “A water-secure world for everyone: a shared responsibility” (en)

Berne, 09.10.2014 - Lausanne, 09.10.2014 - Discours du Président de la Confédération suisse M. Didier Burkhalter à l’occasion du Forum organisé par Nestlé et UNCTAD - Seul le texte prononcé fait foi

Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear roundtable participants

When astrophysicists look for traces of life in the outer space, they look for water. Water is life. Water is a finite resource, which cannot be substituted. Without water there is no health, no food, no energy, no social and economic development, no security – no life.
Today, we are moving dangerously towards a world without enough fresh water.

Population growth, urbanisation, a growing global middle class and changes in production and consumption patterns – all these trends are directly impacting our water resources and related ecosystems. Climate change adds to the challenge by increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

The problem is not only one of over use. Diminishing water resources are also threatened by pollution. Every day, two million tonnes of sewage and waste are discharged directly into the world’s aquatic ecosystems.

Water crisis: one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century

Predictions suggest that, if we do not act, demand for fresh water will increase by 50% by 2030, and by that date, demand will outstrip supply by about 40% globally.

By 2050, over 50% of the global population may be living under water stress and 45% of the world GDP may originate in water-stressed regions.
The current Global Risk Report rates the water crisis third on the list of global risks that threaten humanity – and you can see why.

You might wonder: How does all this concern Switzerland? Our country is blessed with plenty of high-quality water resources. 5% of Europe’s freshwater resources are located in Switzerland. A major part of this water is stored in our lakes, glaciers, and groundwater.

But Switzerland is not immune to global freshwater challenges. While we import products – in particular, food – that are water-intensive, our service-based exports are not. This means that 82% of Switzerland’s water footprint happens beyond our borders, often in regions where water resources are scarce.

Switzerland has an interest in and a responsibility to contribute to resolving water issues – because this has a direct and positive impact on our economy, our environment and most importantly on human beings: contributions to resolving water problems have a direct and positive impact on people’s lives.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Even if water problems are local, the water crisis has a global dimension.

The flood in Thailand in 2011 showed how a local event can have an impact across the world: global car production slowed as supplies of components were cut, and world hard-drive manufacturing for computers plummeted.

The water crisis is not just a threat but a threat multiplier, with implications for food and energy security, as well as political and social stability.
For these reasons, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation has positioned water as a global issue on a par with food security and climate change. Around 7% of Swiss official development aid is dedicated to this issue. Every year, this aid allows 1.2 million people to gain access to clean water and sanitation for the first time in their life.

Our aim: a water-secure world for everyone

Because the water crisis is a global challenge, we need a global response. The behaviour of a single country cannot solve such a complex problem. Switzerland has recognised the need to foster a global commitment, accelerate action, and coordinate responses.

Switzerland wants a water-secure world for everyone. This is why we have strongly advocated for a stand-alone goal on water in the post-2015 development agenda. Today, we are pleased to see that our coordinated efforts with partners are bearing fruit. A “water and sanitation goal” is among the 17 proposed sustainable development goals. This Goal is the result of a collective and united advocacy effort involving Swiss partners – from the public and private sector and the civil society – as well as at the international level inside and outside the UN and about one hundred states.

This is a milestone but it is not the final success. Negotiations will continue until the 70th UN General Assembly, and the High Level Summit in September 2015 will adopt a new sustainable development agenda, including the new set of sustainable development goals. It is therefore crucial that all concerned actors continue to advocate for a sustainable development goal on water.

Access to drinking water and sanitation is a human right

One of the main advantages of the proposed water goal is that it will foster progress towards the implementation of the human right to water and sanitation. The human right to water also imposes obligations on States to progressively eliminate inequalities in access to water. This right entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for essential personal and domestic uses. We talk about 50 to 100 liters per person per day, depending on the region, but also on specific individual needs.

This does not mean that water and sanitation should be delivered for free or at a highly subsidised price. But the tariff must be fair and within reach of the poorest.

The private sector must bear its share of responsibility for ensuring the human right to water. Business enterprises should respect and promote this right. They should avoid infringing on the human rights to water of others and should address adverse human rights impacts in which they are involved.

Cooperation over transboundary waters as a priority

Another benefit of defining water as a sustainable development goal is that it will foster better and more effective water governance.
The situation in each catchment basin is different – different countries and different catchment basins even in the same region face very different problems. Therefore stakeholder dialogues and formal and informal governance are key, including for resolving disputes and ensuring equitable compensation. The business sector must be part of such dialogue.

Competition over water resources can be particularly destabilising in catchment basins that cross political boundaries. This is why it is so important that the proposed water goal advocate transboundary cooperation.

In fact, our main water resources are transboundary. The world's 263 transboundary lakes and river basins cover nearly half of the Earth's land surface and the territory of a total of 145 nations is included in international basins. Concrete challenges for transboundary basis that warrant a close cooperation are for example the construction of big dams in upstream countries or the competition between hydropower and agriculture.

In past years, warnings of potential water wars have grown louder. Geopolitical tensions over access to strategic water resources could have a systemically greater impact, and water shortages coupled with poverty and societal instability could undermine the cohesion of states or fuel inter-state conflict.

But experience has shown that the need for water sharing can also generate cooperation. Despite the complexity of the problems, water sharing can become a field for collaboration in conflict situations.

With this positive vision, Switzerland is engaged in Blue Diplomacy. We have become particularly active in the development of new mechanisms for water-policy negotiation and coordination in order to promote diplomacy over surface water and groundwater in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For instance, we are supporting efforts to strengthen good governance and management mechanisms in fifteen transboundary river basins worldwide, including in the wider Middle East.

Our engagement in water diplomacy relies on the long-standing experience Switzerland has in transboundary water cooperation, for instance in the Rhine basin, one of the most important cultural and economic axes in Europe.

Switzerland is keen to share this experience. One of our most recent initiatives is the twinning of Lake Geneva and Lake Titicaca. As both are transboudary lakes, the twinning aims at sharing the ten years experiences of the International Commission for the protection of Lake Geneva.
Experience in the realm of multilateral environmental agreements has told us how important intergovernmental processes are for predictability and confidence-building.

In this context, we strongly welcome the fact that the Water Convention of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), that we have implemented with our neighbours for many decades, is now turning into a global legal framework for transboundary water cooperation. We encourage Member States outside the UNECE region to join it.

Let me add here that we are building up a hub of competence in Geneva to promote water cooperation and good governance and to prevent – or resolve – water conflicts. This hub will promote partnerships with international think tanks as well as with UN and non-UN institutions and agencies. It will build on Switzerland’s experience as well as on the wealth of international water actors present in Geneva. The hub will further strengthen Geneva as the capital of peace.

Swiss engagement in public-private partnerships

While governments have a responsibility for the design and implementation of policies and regulations, civil society and the private sector also have key roles to play.

The public and the private sector have a shared responsibility for ensuring a water-secure world for everyone. This is why Switzerland is engaged in several public-private partnerships. One example is our work on the water footprint. At the global level, we have supported the adoption of an ISO standard on the water footprint.

In the field, the Swiss development agency is closely cooperating with a dozen of leading companies, as well as with national governments and NGOs to reduce the water footprint of production systems.

For instance, in Vietnam, the world biggest producer of Robusta coffee, we are working with Nestlé and the Ministry of Agriculture. The partnership at first produced a scientific study showing that the quantity of water used for irrigation could be reduced by up to 60%. Corresponding efforts will now be applied with 50,000 farmers. This will lead to significant savings of production costs corresponding to about 240 CHF per coffee farmer per year. In terms of water resources, it will save the equivalent of the water needs of 2.5 million people.

Another initiative in which we are involved, again with Nestlé, is the “2030 Water Resource Group” (WRG), which is an innovative public-private-civil society partnership conceived within the World Economic Forum and hosted by the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group. This initiative was founded on the understanding that governments, the private sector and civil society have a common interest in the sustainable management of water resources.

This innovative approach has already brought positive results in a number of countries. For example, in South Africa a public-private partnership has been initiated for waste water management between upstream mining companies and downstream municipalities. In Mongolia, a multi-stakeholder working group is designing comprehensive incentives such as tax reform, innovative practices or others, that will be fed into the water law.

Conclusion: We must and we can

To wrap up, you have raised the question whether we can resolve the challenge of water scarcity. The projections are dire, but my answer is simple: We must and we can.

Business as usual is not an option. Our survival, our well-being, our economic wealth depends on our capacity to deal with the water crisis. The costs of inaction are disproportionately higher than the costs of action. And the longer we wait, the more expensive it will get.

Switzerland is committed to addressing the water challenge. It is in fact a priority of our foreign policy. We must now all muster the will to give ourselves the policy tools to deal with this challenge. An important way forward will be an ambitious water sustainable development goal.

Moreover, technical solutions are available and in many cases not expensive. For instance, last year report of the Water Resources Group showed that plugging leaks at an existing water supply system can address water scarcity 50 to 100 times more cost effectively than building an expensive water treatment plant. There are also clear opportunities in terms of job creation, innovation and economic growth.

At the political level, dialogue and mediation capacities will be key to resolving water-related challenges and threats.

Finally, and most importantly, this has to be a collective effort. Cooperation among states and public-private partnerships are essential for solving water scarcity.

Caring together about water today is the best and cheapest way of guaranteeing clean water for future generations. Governments, citizens and the private sector can jointly tackle water scarcity and contribute to a water-secure world for everyone. We need to do it now. We owe it to the next generations.

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