2015 World Water Week: Key Takeaways

By Dawn McGregor 15 September, 2015

What's water's role in sustainable development? CWR's McGregor on this & more from World Water Week 2015

Despite its own SDG will water get enough funding? Lack of compliance obligation in SDGs will hinder global action
Finance piece still missing but crucial; Finance wants simple & clear data; Contradictory calls on monitoring
Water must be a top priority at COP21 given its role in climate; Asia still under-represented at the conference

This year was the 25th World Water Week, the events’ silver Jubilee, taking place in Stockholm from 23 – 28 August 2015. The Week was attended by over 3,300 participants from 130 countries. The theme was “Water for Sustainable Development”.
China Water Risk co-convened/delivered keynotes at two sessions in Stockholm:

    • Rethinking water for growth: balancing trade, resource allocation & economy: This session was co-convened by HSBC and China Water Risk (CWR) and covered how China is moving to protect its water resources to ensure economic growth. It also examined how industry, energy and crop mixes will be affected as China pursues water, food and energy security. Implications go beyond China with shifts in global trade so discussion included if Asia can pave the way to a circular economy (see session details here). During the session HSBC spoke to the its recently released report, “No Water, More Trade-offs” that is based on CWR’s research and & analysis. See here for a look by HSBC’s Wai-shin Chan at how trade-offs between coal & cotton could help China manage its water & a review of the report by us here; and
    • Closing plenary: CWR was selected to present the key finding of the Week for the theme “Economic Development: Implementation for Change”. This was one of three (other two were social & environment) rapporteur themes this year (watch the entire closing plenary here).

World Water Week 2015 - China Water Risk
Here are 5 key takeaways from World Water Week:

1. Water has its own Sustainable Development Goal, but is that enough to ensure water for all?

This year marks the conclusion of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the beginning of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which build on the MDGs and converge with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The SDGs are “integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental1. They will stimulate action over the next 15 years. Currently 17 SDGs and 169 associated targets have been proposed. They will be formally adopted by member states of the UN at the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly held later this month.
Water is goal #6 –“Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” Water is also mentioned in targets of other goals.

Whilst  water has its own SDG & is in other targets (some degree of un-siloing), we can’t help but question if this will translate into enough funding & attention given how much we rely on water

The SDGs and in particular water’s SDG was a popular topic at the Week. The majority of commentary and discussion was positive. The more inquisitive commentary focused on indicators for monitoring the goals & targets. Some participants were wary of too many indicators, whilst others were calling for more impact-based than result-based indicators. What was clear though is that the indicators must be strategic and yield key data for various stakeholders, including the private & finance sector since their role in water and climate management continues to grow.

With no compliance obligation countries are left to decide their own degree of implementation… making global collective action difficult

Whilst it is positive to see that water has its own goal and is mentioned in targets of other goals (indicating that there is some degree of un-siloing), we can’t help but question if this will translate into enough funding & attention for water given how much the world relies on it (agriculture, industry, economy, health, sanitation etc…). Out-of-the-box thinking in which water may not always be the main driver of change will be needed, as Barbara Frost, Chief Executive of WaterAid said “Nobody in this room will have water and sanitation if we only focus on water and sanitation”. Moreover, with no compliance obligation countries are left to decide their own degree of implementation of the SDGs & targets, leaving much unknown, making global collective action difficult.

 2. Finance jigsaw piece missing leaving no-one with a complete puzzle

Another challenge for any action, global or local, is financing. This is not new news and was discussed at last year’s World Water Week, though there seemed more this year. The usual finance players like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank etc… were convening/participating in sessions but so too were some newer to the week finance & water related players like SEB Investment Management, PGGM, HSBC, Yes Bank, Green Climate Fund & First Climate Markets AG.

“Water scarcity risks are holding back development, holding back economic growth”

Stefan Lӧfven, Prime Minister of Sweden

Finance is being mobilized for the climate, more so than water but yet water is such a critical aspect of the climate. “Investment proposals pertaining to water are a smaller share of the universe we are seeing”, said Héla Cheikhrouhou, Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund. If we do not move forward on the financing for water jigsaw piece we will never get a complete puzzle and will hinder sustainable & economic development. As Stefan Lӧfven, Prime Minister of Sweden said, “water scarcity risks are holding back development, holding back economic growth”.

Surprising that financing mechanisms were not more discussed given that govt funds will not be enough for global development demands

Green bonds, natural capital accounting and other financial mechanisms were only lightly touched upon during the Week. This was surprising given the acknowledgement that government funds will not be able to meet global development demands. Instead, there seems to be a belief that the private sector will provide the rest but this is not the case currently. During the Week it was clear that the water sector is still speaking “water” and the finance sector is speaking “finance”. Despite calls for cross-silo action, it’s not happening enough (this was one of our takeaways from last year, see here).

Finance sector wants clear & understandable data

Those from the finance sector present at the Week, a minority, called for clear and understandable data. The same call was also made at the Global Leadership Award for Sustainable Apparel (GLASA) going on during the same week. China Water Risk was one of the five finalists. See our takeaways of that event here. This should be a call of action that can be delivered on relatively quickly, though contradictory views on monitoring & data could get hinder such action.

3. Contradictory views on monitoring & data – too much vs too little

During the Week there were contradictory views regarding monitoring & data. One on hand, we need to streamline monitoring and simplify the corresponding data. This then led to questions on who’s tracking the data, what use is it and how to standardize data & manage inconsistencies. On the other hand, there is a lack of an evaluative culture – i.e. we need more monitoring & data. This included calls for more medium to long-term monitoring to ensure that there is not an upfront heavy injection of capital that then dries up as projects continue 5 or 10 years down the line. These contradictions will make it difficult to secure funding & investment.

Contradictory views on monitoring & data will hinder funding

Big data was also talked about though there were no strong conclusions. A strong conclusion at COP 21 in December is highly desired as the Prime Minister of Sweden highlighted, “A strong deal at the climate change conference in Paris is crucial… No society can escape the impacts of climate change.”

4. COP 21 – will water have a big enough role given its crucial role in climate?

The 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21) in Paris in December was another popular topic of the Week.

“Water issue is most crucial in climate change”

Ségolène Royal, France’s Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development & Energy

The water community definitely wants to see a high (more like higher) profile for water at the discussions in December, believing that it hasn’t received its due attention given its crucial role in the climate. “Water issue is most crucial in climate change”, said Ségolène Royal, France’s Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy.
The anticipated new global climate deal at COP21 will obviously have implications for water but what’s less obvious is the impact to the private sector. Regardless, water is a risk to the global economy, business, development & security. As such, all sectors and business models need to be “sustainable” – not just green or CSR sustainability but here for the mid and long-term.

 5. Asia still under-represented

Asia is home to many of today’s emerging markets, which means sustainable development is even more crucial and yet Asia was again this year (as like last) under-represented at the Week.

Sustainable development is key in Asia and yet we are still under-represented

A line from my takeaways last year that applies again this year, “To be clear though, there were sessions on Asia including Asian presenters but these were definitely in the minority. On the other hand, Europe, the US and Africa was well represented…”
Given Asia’s water challenges and global climate conditions this cannot be a future trend. China is moving to protect its water resources to ensure economic growth but implications go beyond China with shifts in global trade. Can Asia pave the way to a circular economy? “Asia, are we up for the challenge?” – to borrow another line from my takeaways last year.

1 https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld

Further Reading

  • 2015 GLASA Awards: Key Takeaways – The Global Leadership Award in Sustainable Apparel (GLASA) was launched to inspire bold & courageous sustainability leadership in the apparel sector. China Water Risk was a finalist this year, for which the theme was water. CWR’s McGregor & Hu share their takeaways
  • Trade-offs Could Help China Manage Water – Tough trade-offs may be on the horizon for China as it balances water, food & energy security. HSBC’s Wai-Shin Chan warns how cotton & coal maybe headed for a clash in the long term as they compete for limited water resources provincially & nationally
  • China Water-nomics – Will China’s economic development be hampered by limited water resources?  The very existence of the Three Red Lines signals that China can’t keep developing the way it has. Read on for why GDP will be capped at 5.7% given China’s water-nomics
  • Still Exposed! Fashion Materials in China -With 32% to 75% of global hides, wool, cotton, chemical fibre and silk either produced in or passing through China via imports, exposure is sky high. Should brands move out of China or should they stay and help factories meet the Water Ten Plan? China Water Risk’s Tan expands on the future of the industry
  • 2014 World Water Week: Takeaways –  Check our key takeaways on ‘Water & Energy’ from World Water Week 2014. What are the challenges ahead for Asia & the rest of the world? Dawn McGregor expands
  • China’s Economy: Linear to Circular – China is the 3rd country globally to enact polices to move towards a circular economy. See how & why China needs to make this transition; which industries are affected, what is the role of industrial parks?
  • Climate Risks: Are We Ready? – Climate change is high on the global agenda, especially with COP 21 at the end of this year and yet we still face major stumbling blocks. See CWR’s key takeaways from various 2014 climate conferences from climate tools, regional resiliency plans, legacy issues to limited climate funding
  • Balancing Water For Agri & Coal – China’s coal mines lie next to its farmlands and it plans to save water used in agriculture to fuel coal growth. In “Towards a Water & Energy Secure China”, China Water Risk explores strategies to control water use between agriculture & coal to ensure both food & energy security
  • Water: Can’t Always Buy What You Need -With competition for water intensifying, paying more for water may not get you what you need. Deloitte Consulting’s Will Sarni on strategies that can help corporates secure water for growth
Dawn McGregor
Author: Dawn McGregor
Dawn leads CWR’s work to help corporates navigate increasingly disruptive & material risks from water & climate threats, as well as transitional risks in the supply chain arising from new regulations in China. Here, Dawn engages extensively with the global fashion industry delivering on-ground workshops in China to keynotes and strategic input at European HQs. She has written at length on the end of dirty and thirsty fast fashion and her report to overcome gaps between brands and manufacturers for a clean and circular future inspired the industry to create a new wastewater tool. Dawn also works closely with the property and tourism sectors where she not only conducts strategic assessments of their exposure but builds collective action toward resilience via closed door working groups and invite-only events. Having helped build CWR, Dawn is a frequent keynote, panellist & moderator at events, including being twice selected as the lead-rapporteur at World Water Week. Her articles are cited in various industry publications including the UN’s ‘World Without Water’. Dawn previously worked in a global investment bank assessing geo-political risk, crisis management and business resiliency. She was born and bred in Hong Kong and has lived in France, England, Singapore and Beijing.
Read more from Dawn McGregor →