World Water Week 2021 – Disrupting Status Quo: Water in health and climate crises

4 October 2021
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OneWorld had the opportunity to convene a seminar with Deltares, ICIMOD  and SIWI under the theme of “Water in a health and climate crisis” – a particularly relevant topic given the current global climate. In our three-part seminar, we explored how systemic change could be driven in the climate and water community using innovation to disrupt the status quo. Read our summary of the seminar here.

Globally, we are witnessing and experiencing the catastrophic effects of systemic risks caused by our existing models of growth. We find ourselves at the intersect of a  water, health and climate crisis, and the question is, how can we solve these multiple double binds? It is not enough to introduce economic policies, exert political will, or stoke up civil society action. As Gareth Phillips from the AfDB stated in our second session, “This is an emergency, so we need to make significant changes to the way we live and need to start paying for things previously we considered to be free.” Thus, for system-wide transformation to occur, a consensus of the facts and subsequent goals needs to form the basis from which action emerges. We need to put people, especially vulnerable people, at the forefront of these conversations and work together to develop innovative and positive disruptive solutions to catalyse systemic change.

Over the past three days, our seminar focused on how we can enable systematic change and positive disruption to survive as a species and ensure our environment is kept intact.

Below are some Key takeaways from each of the three sessions:

Session 1 on Monday the 23rd of August focused on how we can finance systemic change.
  1. The Adaptation Finance deficit – and therefore the water-climate finance deficit continues to widen, with only 3% of all climate finance being channelled to water and health, and adaptation overall.
    This deficit must be urgently addressed, failing which we will lose the development gains made in water and health because of climate change impacts. Private sector finance is pivotal to the solution but investments need to be de-risked, more profitable and targeted at entrepreneurs and SMEs.
  2. Developed countries are afraid of being locked into financing adaptation for decades, while developing countries are frustrated at having to finance solutions to a problem that was not of their making. The distrust surrounding adaptation finance needs to be broken in order to effectively finance systemic change.
  3. Adapting to climate change requires finance, but much more than that. Adaptation also needs resources such as land, labour and indigenous knowledge. These are resources developing countries can invest, thus significantly narrowing the adaptation finance deficit.
  4. Collectively, countries around the world stand to build trust and signal intent by instituting an adaptation levy and stimulating entrepreneurial activity in climate change investments in water and health.
Session 2 held on Tuesday, 24th August focused on the topic of disruptive approaches for a transformative recovery from the Covid-19 crises, and the key takeaways were:
  • Concerted emphasis on local water security as well as combined gender and climate mainstreaming in water and WaSH is crucial for achieving systemic and transformative change
  • Systemic change requires complex interventions demand creation (behaviour change), service provision both publica and private and governance at all levels

Sometimes we need multiple hooks to land old arguments. For example, PES has difficulties because price of water is low, uptake of PES is low globally, and it has distributional and quality implications. However, we must look for innovative solutions such as the appropriate pricing of water based on users, compulsory investment in water catchments when water infrastructure is built and recognising water catchment as pieces of ecological infrastructure to enable and attract infrastructure-like finances.

  1. Access to water, food, health care are the most essential goods and services. Leaders must work together with communities (adopting a top-down and bottom-up approach) to understand the narrative that must be brought forward- that is, to give people hope and to help them understand the greatest existential risk. Transformative change does not happen in a vacuum or simply with technology, it happens in systems and across systems (feedback loops). We need greater connectivity between actors and relationships for change/networks
  2. The Private sector won’t invest if they don’t make money. For systemic change, we must offer a reasonable return to the private sector (the Adaptation Benefit Mechanism is one avenue). We need private sector investment because they are the investors who innovate and create change. That is the systemic impact we need to have.
  3. The rise of impact investing with measurable ESG impacts is encouraging the shift for projects focused on resilience building.

Going back to the situation of multiple double binds that we found ourselves in, systems theory tells us that when we find ourselves in a double bind, we need to add an extra layer of complexity. A new dimension to see the problem could open new ways we could not see before. And that is what our session of today is about, the role of disruptive technologies that may create altogether the enabling environments for sustainable investments and deep changes in the water sector we have been for decades aiming for.

Session 3 held on Wednesday, 25th August focused on disruptive technologies as enabling environments for water and digital access for all.

Key takeaways were:

  1. Digitalisation at the local level is empowering local actors and enabling a more effective engagement and multisectoral process of investment planning. A community registry and clear governance of the digital commons advances and helps to collate actions from different sector and actors, thus increasing liquidity, accountability, and participation.
  2. In view of aging centralized infrastructure systems in countries like USA, and barely existent infrastructure in developing countries, innovations, and the adoption of blockchain could significantly accelerate the process of decentralized treatment and reuse of water for large scale agricultural and/or industrial users
  3. Large multinational companies – like Microsoft- are aware that water stress is a major risk and threat multiplier. Tackling the water crises is part of a larger sustainability strategy, which include being water positive and also carbon negative, through protecting land and becoming zero waste by 2050. As a technology company, MS is investing and cooperating with a variety of strategic scientific partners to generate high quality and trustworthy datasets. This allows for access to information and data at the grassroots and top governance levels.
  4. The role of the public sector remains crucial in taking these disruptive innovations initiated by private sector and communities towards full scale. For example, the IUCN Director of South America pointed out that Peru has made great advances in incorporating Ecosystems as part of the competitiveness and infrastructure strategy for water supply, to reach both mitigation and adaptation goals. Thanks to the joint pioneering actions of the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Finance, the country regulatory and policy framework has advanced to recognise ecosystems as a public good, like other network infrastructures. By creating a new natural infrastructure asset class, this permits the creation of a whole gamma of innovative investment models.
Overall Conclusions:

Disruptive technologies are enabling new and increasingly transparent and democratic models of global-local and public-private collaboration that have the potential to transform the governance of water resources and enable both the sustainable use of resources and financial sustainability of investments.  These positive disruptions are enabling decentralized service provision systems and much higher levels of social inclusion in investment planning and water allocation, which leads towards the long-term goals envisioned through the decentralization of the water sector.

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