2018 World Water Week: Key Takeaways

By Woody Chan, Yuanchao Xu 18 September, 2018

Financing nature-based solutions, water stewardship & valuing water were key focuses. CWR's Chan & Xu expand

Connecting finance & business to SDG6 is underway with packed seminars but mainstream investors & bankers still absent
Leading brands e.g. Coca Cola call for other co's to 'stop doing their own thing' on water & sign on to basin-wide water stewardship initiatives
Properly valuing water is key to bringing business & finance to the table & this year the UN High Level Panel on Water issued a strong rallying call

This is the fifth consecutive year China Water Risk has taken part in World Water Week in Stockholm. As with previous years the conference was very well attended with over 3,600 participants from 133 countries. This year the theme was “Water, ecosystems and human development” and many events centred around nature-based solutions.

Our event this year was titled “Asia Water-nomics: More GDP with Less Water & Pollution”, the seminar covered the following topics. More details can be found here and here.

  • Does Asia have enough water for its people and future development?
  • Will climate change exacerbate current water constraints across Asia’s 10 river basins?
  • What is China doing in balancing water and development? What can we learn from the Yangtze River Economic Belt (>42% of national GDP)?
  • At the city level, what can we improve in water management? Are sponge cities the future urban ecosystem?
  • What implications are there for sectors e.g. electronics?

The seminar was well attended by policymakers, business leaders and academics and we hope it provoked meaningful dialogue and action from the audience. While our seminar outlined macro-level challenges, there was much going on in other events, from solutions to collaborations and exhibitions. Below are our 5 key takeaways:

1. Attention to finance & business continues to grow

In previous years we have noted that the need for business and finance involvement has become more and more present.

“2-3 years ago, such an event would only attract a handful of people”

This year was no exception, as it seems to now be common knowledge that business and finance have a key role in achieving SDG6. Just to give an example, the room that the seminar “Blended finance: From principles to practice” was held in was completely jam packed with attendees, to the extent that many were not able to enter. Later on, one of the audience members remarked to the panel that “2-3 years ago, such an event would only attract a handful of people”. While this is encouraging, the presence of mainstream investors and bankers is still somewhat lacking if we are to fully connect finance with SDG6.

Tools & solutions to help corporates pursue water stewardship also seem to be improving

As for business, leading corporates were again on hand to share their water strategies and stewardship plans. Food & beverage and textile brands were particularly active, with Nestle, Danone and H&M all showcasing their actions on water. More positively, tools and solutions to help corporates pursue water stewardship also seem to be improving, from the new Water Stewardship Benefit Accounting Methodology to the revamped Water Risk Filter by WWF.

2. Water stewardship is the way forward for all; not just for leading brands

That being said, representatives from some leading brands were quick to point out that while they were moving forward with water stewardship actions, there needs to be more collective action within sectors.

“It cannot always be the same people doing the heavy lifting”

This point was particularly stressed by a speaker from Alliance for Water Stewardship in the seminar “Water stewardship benefit accounting: New approaches and lessons learned”, who said “it cannot always be the same people doing the heavy lifting”. Data sharing among companies over water stewardship was recommended along with tangible corporate water metrics that can be comparable between companies.

Elsewhere, in the seminar “Water stewardship: Partnership and financing models for scale”, roundtable participants concluded that it would be more efficient if brands stopped “doing their own thing” on water and signed up to basin-wide water stewardship initiatives.

3. Call for valuing water coming from the highest level

Properly valuing water and its associated economic, social and cultural benefits is key to bringing business and finance to the table. This conversation was already in progress in 2016 and this year efforts were stepped up significantly.

The UN High Level Panel on Water, for instance, convened multiple seminars to promote the Valuing Water Initiative. Concrete successful examples of valuing water and subsequent actions on the ground in Columbia, the Philippines and more were presented.

Q&A sessions however, showed that some of the audiences were still skeptical on the usefulness of the concept. Some pointed out that similar initiatives have had little impact at a wide scale while others were uncertain as to how material this value can be to financial institutions and businesses. Nevertheless, the Valuing Water Initiative appears to be gathering steam with Henk Ovink, the first ever Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, as a champion and various organisations signing on.

4. Stronger governance is needed for better project implementation, business action & finance

When speakers and panelists were asked what more was needed for better on ground projects and larger finance and business participation, governance was brought up most of the time.

For example, during the “Water sensitive and livable green cities in Asia” seminar, one of the speakers believed that stronger decentralised governance is key to tackling India’s groundwater issues. Similarly, another speaker from the ADB working on the Secondary Green Cities Development Project in Vietnam saw continued engagement with government officials as essential to the success of the project.

“Strong governance & political will on water from the top down can help lend credibility to projects & catalyse more finance & business involvement”

Elsewhere, roundtable discussions at seminars like Innovative financing to protect ecosystems in Asia” and “Accountability for scaling market based sanitation financing” stressed that strong governance and political will on water from the top down can help lend credibility to projects and catalyse more finance and business involvement. Despite this, we observed that the number of policymakers at Stockholm seems to be declining in recent years and hope this can be reversed next year.

5. More youth participation & engagement

We were also pleasantly to see the high rate of youth involvement in seminars, showcases and exhibitions alike. For instance, all the presenters at the seminar “Can Valuing Water change our attitude towards water? Concrete examples!” were under the age of 35. We were also introduced to the impressive work being done by organisations such as Water Youth Network and World Youth Parliament for Water.

“Future leaders make their mark at World Water Week”

It was also noted at the closing plenary that “future leaders make their mark at World Water Week”. With many of our current water problems likely to exacerbate in the future, it was certainly encouraging to hear the voices of the future generation at high level discussions. Inclusivity in water will likely further improve next year with the theme being “Leaving No One Behind”. We are already looking forward to it!

Further Reading

  • New Report: Does Asia Have Enough Water To Develop? – Since our economy runs on water, no water means no growth but there is little conversation on this topic in Asia. To catalyse such conversations, this report provides an overview of the water-nomic challenges facing Asia
  • Kazakhstan Focuses On Water Saving To Ease Tensions With China – Kazakhstan & China have a history of tension over the Ili river but with changing waterscapes Kazakhstan is restructuring its water management. See more on why & how it is doing this from Dr. Lei Xie & Professor Shaofeng Jia from the Chinese Academy of Science
  • India’s Thermal Power Plants Threatened By Water Shortages – Water shortages are negatively impacting India’s ability to produce power. World Resources Institute’s Tianyi Luo updates us on water stress exposure, risks & opportunities for India’s power sector
  • Can Nepali Coffee Survive The Impacts Of Climate Change? – Coffee growers in Nepal’s hills are facing a double whammy; climate change and pests, which are also interlinked. Abhyaya Raj Joshi expands on the impacts so far & challenges to continue to produce
  • Water Trading: Shiyang River Basin Case – Successes in the Shiyang River Basin and other pilots have motivated the Chinese government to push a nation-wide water rights & water market system. Tsinghua University’s Professor Jianshi Zhao expands


  • 2017 World Water Week: Key Takeaways – The theme for World Water Week 2017 was ‘Water and Waste: Reduce & Reuse’ and perhaps unsurprisingly textiles was a key focus area along with circularity. China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor shares both water and textile takeaways from Stockholm
  • 2016 World Water Week: Key Takeaways – Business, risk assessment & linkages with SDG 6 were key issues at World Water Week 2016, fitting given the theme “Water for Sustainable Growth”. China Water Risk’s Dawn McGregor on our three key takeaways from Stockholm
  • 2015 World Water Week: Key Takeaways – What’s water’s role in sustainable development? How can we ensure water for all? China Water Risk’s McGregor on this, how Asia is fairing, the Sustainable Development Goals & more from World Water Week 2015
  • 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
  • 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
Woody Chan
Author: Woody Chan
Woody Chan leads corporate social responsibility and sustainability initiatives at foodpanda, strengthening its commitment to grow sustainably with its ecosystem of riders, merchants, and consumers. As an advocate for environmental sustainability, Woody has also participated in various speaking engagements, from TEDx talks and university seminars to industry forums and panels.
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Yuanchao Xu
Author: Yuanchao Xu
Yuanchao uses his analytical proficiencies towards the assessment and visualization of water risks for China Water Risk. Prior to joining, Yuanchao was based in Europe completing the Erasmus Mundus Master Program where he specialsed in hydro-informatics and water management. He applied his skills in climate forecasting and water resource modelling to the EUPORIAS project with DHI (Danish Hydraulic Institute) which resulted in a conference paper on seasonal climate forecasting. Building on this work, he went on to develop hyfo, an open-source R programme for climate scientists and modellers to analyse and visualize data. Yuanchao’s bachelor degree was from the China Agricultural University where he specialized in heat energy and power engineering. During his time there, he also patented a testing instrument for hydraulic machinery. He has studied and worked in Beijing, Nice, Newcastle and Copenhagen.
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