UNECE Water Convention turns 20 as it prepares to face global challenges Print
News Waterfall - News Waterfall #5
Monday, 08 October 2012 16:43

On 4 September Secretariat of the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) disseminated the Press-release “UNECE Water Convention turns 20 as it prepares to face global challenges.”

The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) was signed in 1992 in Helsinki. To mark this anniversary, the Government of Finland hosted a meeting on 3 and 4 September 2012. At the two-day meeting, participants debated the achievements of the past 20 years together with the future perspectives for the Convention, against the background of its forthcoming globalization with the upcoming entry into force of an amendment allowing accession by United Nations Members outside the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

In the past 20 years, the world and the pan-European region have gone through profound political, economic and social transformation. The world's population has increased by 1.5 billion persons, and there are not only more of us, but we consume increasingly more: to meet the demands of a growing population with increasing wealth and consumption levels, global water withdrawals have tripled over the past 50 years. These trends will only further accelerate. The world's population is predicted to grow to 8.3 billion in 2030 and to 9.1 billion in 2050. Unless there are significant changes to the ways that we produce and consume, agricultural production will have to increase by about 70% by 2050, and about 50% more primary energy will have to be made available by 2035. Such increases will have far-reaching implications for water resources.

In such a complex world, with looming potential conflicts between water users, the Convention is more relevant than ever, as was highlighted at the two-day meeting. It provides a useful framework to exchange experience in addressing the increasing imbalance between water supply and demand, deterioration of water quality and ecosystems, impacts of climate change as well as the linkages between water, food and energy in transboundary basins. Participants emphasized as key success factors the fact that the Convention was not only able to adapt its work to respond to new challenges, but at the same time ensured continuity of efforts, which is needed for transboundary water cooperation, typically a long-term process.

“The future of the Convention will be defined by its globalization and opening up to countries outside the UNECE region” affirmed UNECE Executive Secretary Sven Alkalaj, noting that “the approach with regard to non-UNECE countries should be consistent with how the Convention and its Parties have behaved so far towards non-Parties in the UNECE region. It has been an inclusive and engaging approach, involving non-Parties in the work almost as much as Parties.”

Another important aspect for the future will be the relationship with the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses, which is expected to enter into force in 2013 or 2014. The consequences of the entry into force of the 1997 Convention in terms of implementation and intergovernmental structure are to be seen and the results cannot be anticipated. At the same time, participants at the meeting stressed that it is critical that future scenarios build on synergies, and avoid duplication and the waste of resources.

The two-day commemorative event reconfirmed the strong support of Parties to the Convention and their commitment to ensure that it will rise to future challenge. In particular, Finland reasserted its strong backing of the Convention and of transboundary water cooperation not only through the organization of the event, but also in the bilateral meetings that were held between Mr. Alkalaj and Ms. Anne Sipiläinen, Under-Secretary of State for Development Aid and Development Policy, Mr. Ville Niinistö, Minister of the Environment and Mr. Jari Koskinen, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

Press-release UNECE Water Convention turns 20 as it prepares to face global challenges

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Many river basin agreements are based on the Water Convention, such as the Danube River Protection Convention, the agreements on the Meuse, Rhine, Scheldt and Sava Rivers, and, further to the East, the bilateral agreements between countries in Eastern Europe established since the mid-1990s, among them the Kazakh-Russian, Russian-Ukrainian and Moldovan-Ukrainian agreements. Today, 37 countries and the European Union are the Parties to the UNECE Water Convention. Turkmenistan will become the thirty-ninth Party to the Convention on 27 November 2012.

Read more reflections and comments about the Meeting in Helsinki: