UNECE facilitates reflection on the regional integration, peace, security and stability benefits of transboundary water cooperation
Transboundary water cooperation has the potential to generate a broad range of economic, social and environmental benefits through improved water management. This is widely recognized and most of these benefits can be assessed. But how to assess spill-over benefits from enhanced trust and dialogue, such as geopolitical benefits and improved regional economic integration?
Although transboundary water cooperation has been increasing, some countries still face obstacles to cooperation. Even for countries that do cooperate, transboundary water cooperation often focuses on a limited number of priorities, such as water allocation and water quality monitoring, and more rarely addresses emerging challenges. “Bringing new ideas to the cooperation process, by assessing the broad range of possible benefits of transboundary water cooperation could represent a new driving force for strengthening existing cooperation. It could also highlight common interests for countries to build up cooperation when cooperation is weak”, said Andres Talijärv, Secretary General of the Ministry of the Environment of Estonia and co-Chair of the Estonian-Russian Transboundary Commission.
Participants in the workshop “Beyond water: Identifying, assessing and communicating the benefits of transboundary water cooperation” (28 -29 January, Tallinn), co-organized by UNECE, the Ministry of the Environment of Estonia and the United Nations Development Programme’s Shared Waters Partnership, highlighted the crucial role of transboundary water cooperation in building trust between riparian States, even when cooperation in other sectors is hampered by diverging political priorities. For example, in the Jordan River Basin, while other events related to the twentieth anniversary of the Israeli-Jordan Peace Treaty were cancelled in the region due to major political and social rifts between Israel, Palestine and Jordan, the International Conference on Sustainable Development in the Jordan Valley, focusing on transboundary water cooperation, was convened and gathered senior officials from the three parties, demonstrating a wide commitment to the regional effort to rehabilitate the Lower Jordan River.
Water diplomacy and the consideration of the geopolitical benefits of transboundary water cooperation are climbing higher on the diplomatic agenda of many countries and are attracting increased political engagement. For example, the 2015 edition of the Global Risks report launched at the World Economic Forum in January 2015 identifies water conflicts as the one of the ten most likely risks and the top one in terms of possible impact. But studies have shown that rather than being a conflict driver, water is a catalyst for cooperation. For example, water has been crucial in the peacebuilding process in the post-Yugoslav era in South-Eastern Europe, with the creation of the International Sava River Basin Commission. There is a real need to bridge the gap between the water and foreign policy communities and to mainstream water diplomacy into foreign policy.
International framework agreements such as the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) can provide rule-based solutions for the effective strengthening of cooperation and a platform for exchanging views and identify mutually beneficial solutions. The workshop “Beyond Water” contributed to the further elaboration of a policy guidance note currently being developed under the UNECE Water Convention that aims to support Governments and other actors in realizing the potential of transboundary water cooperation. The note provides an overview of the potential benefits that can be realized, an introduction to how the specific benefits can be assessed and guidance on how the assessment of benefits can be integrated into policymaking. It builds on the experiences shared by more than 100 experts and 30 transboundary river basins and shared aquifers.
For more information, see: www.unece.org/env/water/workshop_benefits_cooperation_2015.html#/
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