[World Water Forum] Let’s talk about water beyond the water sector

By Jean-Louis Chaussade, CEO of SUEZ

Water meets water at the World Water Forum in Brasilia from 18 to 23 March. Since 1997, water industry stakeholders have gathered together every three years to share challenges and solutions. From Marrakesh to Brasilia, a whole community of professionals from a wide range of backgrounds has been created, united by the unique and vital bond that is water. However, these stakeholders – who have historically advocated for sensible management of this common good – are struggling to be heard, despite the importance and the urgency of the stakes involved.

2018 is a key year for water on the international agenda. In July, the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York will be devoted to Goal 6 of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, access to water and sanitation. An estimated 663 million people still do not have access to a reliable supply of drinking water, and more than 2.5 billion people do not have access to a sanitation system – and yet other goals, such as health, education, gender equality and sustainable cities all directly depend on whether Goal 6 is achieved.

Water is all around us – food, energy, health. Water alternates between being the victim and the executioner of climate change: undergoing warming, flooding the land, or simply not being present where needed, as is currently the case in Cape Town in South Africa. Despite the worsening water crisis, water is generally ignored in international climate negotiations.

Act to keep pollution on land

Other topics, such as oceans – which account for more than 70% of the world's surface – are also infrequently discussed on the international stage. The planet's biggest climate regulators, oceans are also the final destination for land-based pollution, and urgent action is required to keep that pollution on land, particularly plastic pollution. The SUEZ Group has made strong commitments to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean. In June 2017, on World Oceans Day, SUEZ organised more than 40 waste clean-ups worldwide, collecting over 12 tonnes of waste, which was then sent to the Group's subsidiaries.

Improve water governance at all levels

Sustainable Development Goal 14 is probably one of the most difficult to achieve: the majority of the planet's seas and oceans are not under the responsibility of any stakeholder or any government. Another issue is that it is also essential to improve water governance at all levels. An OECD study presented at the previous World Water Forum in South Korea in 2015 revealed that water stakeholders had significant experience of dialogue and consultation – particularly among peers. This observation boosted the resolve of more than 150 member organisations of the OECD Water Governance Initiative. These stakeholders from the public, private, academic and non-profit sectors collectively developed 12 guiding principles, which were adopted in 2015 by the OECD Ministerial Council. Led by a steering committee, of which SUEZ has been a member since 2012, the Initiative has developed and tested a series of water governance maturity indicators, which will be presented in Brasilia.

Move from advocacy to shared action

In Brasilia, and beyond, these principles for action must be brought forward. In New York in July and in Poland for COP24 in November, they must be robustly defended to ensure that progress is made and to ensure that finally, the water sector can feed into debates other than its own – to mobilise efforts by industry players and the agriculture sector to reduce their water footprint, following in the footsteps of the 65 members of the Business Alliance for Water and Climate Change that SUEZ launched in 2015. Brasilia is a major step in protecting and sharing all types of water – underground and surface, domestic and industrial, transboundary and marine – but the challenges are also debated elsewhere. We must urgently move from advocacy to shared action.

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