• Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: Progressio
  • Submission Document: Download
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Full Submission

Progressio Submission to the UNCSD Rio+20 Conference Zero Draft Compilation Document

1 November 2011

Executive summary

Progressio recognises the importance of Rio+20 for reigniting progress towards sustainable development, in the context of increased environmental degradation, competition over scarce resources and climate change.

Rio+20 should not be seen as a the end of a journey, but a catalyst to start off new initiatives and processes that builds on outcomes of previous ?Earth Summits?, coupled with new awareness, learning and knowledge. Given the particular impact of environmental stress on poor people and communities, a clear poverty and equity focus must be at the heart of Rio+20.

Water should be a key focus area under the Rio+20 process, as a fundamental resource that underpins both life and livelihoods and therefore represents an essential part of sustainable development. This should build on experiences, knowledge and outcomes from previous ?Earth Summits?, as well as other relevant processes and new research, including the impacts of climate change on the water cycle.

A Green Economy cannot function without water. Water is not a ?sector?, and its cross cutting nature makes it a fundamental part of many important aspects of a Green Economy, such as agriculture and energy. Green Economy policies therefore need to include recognition of water to ensure water related impacts are fully acknowledged and accounted for, in particular where usage can have direct or indirect impacts on other sectors or users.

Water insecurity and scarcity affects a large proportion of the world?s population, with a particular impact on the world?s poorest people, who are often put at further disadvantage where there is competition over water resources. A core focus on sustainable and equitable water resources management is therefore essential, with clear poverty and equity objectives, and active involvement of key stakeholders.

A strong gender approach must also be included. Women are generally the main water managers on a household level in developing countries, both for consumptive and productive use, and their knowledge and participation should be acknowledged, and they should be provided with adequate support according to their needs.

1. Introduction

Progressio welcomes the opportunity to submit our views to the UNCSD Rio+20 Zero Draft process. Progressio aims in this submission to draw particular attention to the significance of water as an urgent issue for Rio+20, including its vital role for sustainable development and poverty eradication.

1.1 About Progressio

Progressio is an international development charity that enables poor communities to solve their own problems through support from skilled workers. We work in partnership with civil society organisations in 11 countries around the world and we also lobby decision-makers to change policies that keep people poor. Our work is guided by three themes: Participation and effective governance, Sustainable environment; and HIV and AIDS. Progressio is the working name of the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR).

1.2 The importance of Rio+20

The UNCSD Rio Earth Summit in 1992 was a landmark event in terms of sustainable development, however, there has been a considerable lack of progress in many areas since, and there is an urgent need to speed up progress, in particular in the light of growing challenges of environmental degradation, competition over scarce resources and climate change. Given the precarious state of our planet, a failure at Rio would come at a high cost. The challenges of natural resource degradation and climate change are not only detrimental for the future of this planet, but also interlinked and fundamental for the global economic system and development challenges, including the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Progressio believes that the Rio+20 Conference presents a vital opportunity to get progress back on track.

2. Expectations of Rio+20

2.1 Outcomes of Rio+20

Rio+20 should not be seen as the end of a journey, but rather as a catalyst to start off new initiatives and processes. It is fundamental that these build on the outcomes and learning from previous Earth Summits, including the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21, coupled with recognition of new challenges and knowledge. Key challenges should be identified and dealt with through concrete measures that are based on principles of long term sustainability and a pro-poor approach.

Viable propositions that deserve further attention and elaboration include the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs would address the Agenda 21 aims, and could be used as a possible foundation for building international political commitment at Rio, providing measurable ?tangible goals? for the sustainable development debate. The SDGs would apply in all countries, and therefore act as a complementary, successor framework to the MDGs, which end in 2015 and focuses mainly on the Global South. However, the SDGs should not detract from the urgent need for a post-2015 framework that focuses on poverty or from funding for that agenda.

3. Water

?Water problems will figure prominently at the forthcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, in 2012 ? Rio + 20.? UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, World Water Day, 22 March 2011

3.1 The water crisis

Only 2.63 per cent of global water is freshwater, which includes a large part that is tied up in snow and ice. Despite this, there is currently no overall global water scarcity, but a number of regions are chronically short of water , and climate change is expected to make this worse. In addition, further complexities surround water scarcity issues. It has been estimated that out of the 2.8 billion people that live in areas facing water scarcity, 1.2 billion live in ?physical water scarcity? and 1.6 billion in ?economic water scarcity?, meaning that water access is not limited by supply, but constrained by financial, human or institutional capacity. To solve the water crisis, focus must therefore not just be on managing supply and demand, but also on access constraints in broader terms, such as governance and equity aspects.

Increased attention is being given to the cross cutting nature of water for many different uses and tension around availability and prioritisation, for example, in the so called ?water, food and energy nexus?. To ensure equitable access and environmental sustainability both in the short and long term, an interlinked approach is fundamental, which also needs to include the impacts of climate change, in particular given the predicted severe impact on water resources.

In addition to the basic need of water, food production is particularly important given that 70 per cent of freshwater withdrawals are for agriculture, highlighting direct linkages between water availability and food security concerns. There are also direct linkages to the rural poor, recognising that smallholder farms feed one-third of the world?s population. Furthermore, increased reliance on water intensive sources of energy is raising questions around long term sustainability even for many renewable energy sources, a concern that also needs to be recognised within climate change mitigation policies.

Poor people are often hit hardest and despite progress on the MDG 7 target on access to water, almost 900 million people still lack access to safe drinking water and even if the target is met, 672 million will be left without. Women are often particularly affected, since they are often responsible for water management on a household level, both for consumptive and productive use. Furthermore, population increase, changes in consumption and production patterns, environmental degradation, pollution and a number of other factors implicates on water availability. Lack of progress on access to water also often has fallback effects on other MDGs, such as gender equality, hunger, health and education.

3.2 Water and the Rio process

Water is not a new concern within the UN ?Earth Summit? framework. Outcomes of both the 1972, 1992 and 2002 conferences include direct references and recommendations in relation to water, and are complemented by the Millennium Development Goals. Most importantly, Agenda 21: Chapter 18 is dedicated to water ?Protection of the Quality & Supply of Freshwater Resources: Application of Integrated Approaches to the Development, Management & Use of Water Resources?. This comprehensive chapter proposes six programme areas for the freshwater sector:

(a) Integrated water resources development and management;

(b) Water resources assessment;

(c) Protection of water resources, water quality and aquatic ecosystems;

(d) Drinking-water supply and sanitation;

(e) Water and sustainable urban development;

(f) Water for sustainable food production and rural development;

(g) Impacts of climate change on water resources.

To facilitate implementation, each programme area is divided into Basis for action, Objectives, Activities, Means of implementation, including Financing and cost evaluation, Scientific and technological means, Human resource development, and Capacity-development.

Furthermore, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation includes several references to water, many with particular reference to the Millennium Development Goals. This includes the launch of a programme of actions, with financial and technical assistance, including actions to ?promote priority action by Governments, with the support of all stakeholders, in water management and capacity-building at the national level and, where appropriate, at the regional level, and promote and provide new and additional financial resources and innovative technologies to implement chapter 18 of Agenda 21? (see Appendix III).

In the Rio+20 context the challenge of access to clean water and sanitation is one of the main concerns, but also water availability more generally, noting that ?increased action is imperative?. Furthermore, water is being recognised in broader terms than before with a focus on its role as a cross cutting resource, included as an essential part of the ?Green Economy? and the so called ?water, food and energy nexus?. As a consequence suggested solutions have largely moved away from a primary focus on management issues, towards market based approaches, including full cost valuation and pricing, to solve the problems around supply and demand.

4. Green Economy and Water

4.1 Rio+20 and the Green Economy

The ?Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication? is one of the main focus areas of Rio+20. While the Green Economy has been set in a broader concept of the intersection between environment and economy, to highlight synergies rather than trade-offs, coupled with social issues, no clear definition has been agreed within this context, partly due to some resistance to the concept in itself. UNEP?s definition is therefore sometimes used, "A Green Economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental and ecological scarcities."

Outside of Rio+20, Green Economy is often used more or less interchangeably with Green Growth. OECD has identified Green Growth as ?fostering economic growth and development, while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies? . The most significant difference to UNEP?s definition is the lack of reference to social equity, a key fundamental for achieving sustainable poverty reduction.

Despite a clear definition, the Rio+20 process has identified different green economy policies that indicates a general direction: green stimulus packages; eco-efficiency; greening markets and public procurement; investment in sustainable infrastructure; restoration and enhancement of natural capital; getting prices right; and eco-tax reform. ?Getting prices right? is defined as better reflecting environmental externalities in market prices, especially for natural resources. A consultative bottom-up approach is also recommended, with government leadership and multi-stakeholder engagement, with careful design to ensure social equity.

Furthermore, it is acknowledged that there is no simple one-size-fits-all for poverty reduction, and that poverty eradication and enhancement of the livelihoods of the most vulnerable deserve priority in measures promoting a green economy transition. In the long term, a development path limiting environmental impacts would be more conducive to prosperity and poverty alleviation. The poor are generally most affected by trends, such as climate change and environmental degradation and shocks such as food scarcity and shifts of the economy that decrease such risks will benefit the poor. Production and consumption systems that are compatible with sustainable development play a key part in this.

4.2 Water and the Green Economy

The Stockholm Statement to Rio+20 from World Water Week 2011 argues that water is ?the bloodstream of the Green Economy?, and recognises the interconnectedness of water, food and energy as a fundamental priority. It also calls for universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, over and above current MDG aspirations.

UNEP?s report ?Towards a Green Economy? identifies investment in clean water and sanitation services to the poor as one of the biggest opportunities to speed up the transition to a green economy in many developing countries. Not having access to water is costly, since either large amounts of their disposable income have to be spent on purchasing water from vendors or large amounts of time, in particular from women and children, have to be devoted to carting it. In addition, the cost of water-borne diseases is high. UNEP estimates that under a scenario of an investment of around 0.16 per cent of global GDP per year, water use at the global level could be kept within sustainable limits and the MDG for water could be achieved by 2015.

UNEP argues that a green economy should acknowledge where water is scarce, and manage it carefully, to ensure use is kept within sustainable limits. The role of water in both maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services should be recognised, valued and paid for, and the use of technologies that encourage efficient forms of recycling and reuse is encouraged. To progress towards the pursuit of green objectives various tools can be used, such as the redesign of governance arrangements, the improved specification of property rights, the adoption of policies that reflect the full costs of use including the costs of adverse impacts on the environment, and through improved regulation. The suggested indicators for tracking progress include the number of people without access to reliable supplies of clean water and sanitation, as well as the volume available per person in a region.

The report recognises that the complex flow of water resources affects its availability and opportunities to manage it. Given the high level of water used by agriculture, one of the biggest challenges is to find a way to significantly increase the productivity of irrigated agriculture, so that water can be transferred to other sectors without adversely affecting the environment or food security. The report argues that gauging the true value of ecosystems, including water, is a key part of the movement towards a green economy, coupled with market-based approaches, as well as consumer driven accreditation and certification schemes. Water entitlement and allocation systems are other options, however, the environment should have rights that are either equal or superior to those of other users of a water resource.

To reduce the cost of a transition to a green economy, the report recommends improvements in governance arrangements, reform of water policies and the development of partnerships with the private sector. Other key recommendations include the phasing out of perverse subsidies and adopting freer trading arrangements, which are believed to bring benefits to many sectors. In terms of water and sanitation, the report remains decisive on the importance of full cost accounting, but inconclusive on ?how best to charge poor households for access to water and sanitation services?. It concludes that green economies should include commitment to factoring social equity into the transition to arrangements that influence investment and decisions by people and industry, but how this is done largely depends on the context.

4.3 A water and poverty analysis

The lack of a clear definition of a Green Economy within the Rio+20 context presents a potential hazard in that what is considered ?green? becomes a very broad concept that primarily responds to short term concerns, without adequate analysis of cross cutting issues or social and environmental impacts in the long term. If not managed carefully this could ultimately lead to negative impacts on sustainable development and poverty reduction, including from a water perspective.

The Green Economy needs to be a fair one, where the social dimension of sustainable development needs to be given greater emphasis, and one that acknowledges key environmental limits and planetary boundaries. It will therefore be essential to comprehensively analyse potential effects on environmental, social and economic levels, both on short and long term, and across sectors and including the impacts of climate change. Core sustainability and equity principles must guide the process, including strong environmental and social safeguards, with a clear focus on cross cutting water related impacts.

As described above, the UNEP report argues that shifting to a green economy usually involves a commitment to begin charging for the full costs of resource use. The main tension is how to include principles on social equity, including how to charge for water and sanitation services, also recognising that this is now a human right. While market based approaches, including a full cost valuation of water, could provide benefits in terms of discouraging over usage, social equity principles are essential to ensure poor communities are not put at considerable disadvantage, in particular in a context of increased environmental degradation, competition over water resources and climate change. Furthermore, while some argue that there is little practical difference between private or public provision of water, attention need to be paid to the private sector?s mandate to maximise profit and implications for poor communities, as this could undermine poor communities? ability to pay. From another perspective, profit maximisation could also lead to encouragement to consume more.

Progressio, CEPES and Water Witness International?s report ?Drop by drop: Understanding the impact of the UK?s water footprint through a case study of Peruvian asparagus? highlights tensions between large scale agribusiness and water for local communities, which can serve as an illustrative example of the importance of recognition of water related impacts and lessons for a Green Economy. The report illustrates a number of far reaching impacts of the growth of agribusiness, largely supported by international investment, including rapid depletion of the aquifer, and with negative fallbacks for poor and marginalised communities in the Ica Valley and beyond, such as lack of water for drinking and for irrigation.

Green Economy policies should avoid moving into a ?new paradigm? on water, without proper recognition of lessons learned through other water related processes, in particular in terms of poverty related aspects. Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and other similar approaches, including community and ecosystems based management, have come through as viable strategies from the Rio and other processes. Implementation has been slow, partly due to lack of political will, but it is essential that they still form a key part of the Green Economy process. The important role of poor communities and other key stakeholders need to be recognised, not just as beneficiaries, but as key agents and co-creators of positive change. The Rio Declaration and Agenda put local communities, with particular emphasis on women, as a key component of sustainable development and it is essential that this recognition is also reflected in Green Economy policies.

To avoid negative fallbacks of Green Economy policies, principles of social equity must therefore be included, including principles of development through a human rights framework. Adequate and efficient regulation is also important, as well as ensuring poor people are involved in decision making, to ensure sustainability and that their knowledge and needs are recognised. This should include women, who are often responsible for water management on a domestic level and therefore hold vital information on water availability and access, and therefore must play a key part for any solution to be sustainable. The cultural aspects of water must also be recognised, including the management functions ritual and beliefs can entail, in particular for indigenous groups.

The linkages to other poverty related processes must also be recognised. Sustainable and equitable access to water has impacts on other development related issues, such as gender equality, health, education, food production and work opportunities, all key elements of the MDGs. Furthermore, the potential impact of climate change must be recognised, given that the water cycle will be particularly affected, and could therefore severely undermine any progress if not taken into account. Again, poor people are likely to be hit the hardest.

5. Recommendations

? Rio+20 represents a vital opportunity to reignite progress towards sustainable development that should be seen as a catalyst to start off new initiatives and processes that builds on outcomes of previous ?Earth Summits?, coupled with new awareness, learning and knowledge.

? Given the particular impact of environmental stress on poor people and communities, a clear poverty and equity focus must be at the heart of Rio+20, including gender considerations.

? The impacts of climate change must be taken into consideration at all times, both from a mitigation and adaptation perspective.

? Viable propositions that deserve further attention and elaboration include the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

? Water should be a key focus area of Rio+20, as a fundamental resource that underpins both life and livelihoods, that is also cross cutting and impacts on multiple sectors and users. It therefore also represents an essential part of the Green Economy.

? This includes a core focus on sustainable and equitable water resources management, with clear poverty and equity objectives, and active involvement of key stakeholders, including a gender perspective.

? The Green Economy must be a fair one, where the social dimension of sustainable development is given greater emphasis, and one that acknowledges key environmental limits and planetary boundaries.

For further information, please contact:

Petra Kjell, Environment Policy and Advocacy Officer, Progressio

Tel: +44 (0)20 7288 8665 Email:

Tim Aldred, Policy and Communications Manager, Progressio

Tel +44 (0)20 7288 8625 Email:


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