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International waters: Conflict, cooperation, and climate change

Aaron Wolf's picture

Almost all human and ecosystem activity relies on a safe, stable supply of water resources.  And since the resource needs to be allocated to myriad uses, from drinking to agriculture to instream flows to transportation, industry, and spiritual transformation, water management is conflict management.  Moreover, when surface basins or aquifer systems cross international boundaries the unifying principles of integrated watershed management and all the attendant centripetal forces within a basin directly contradict the centrifugal needs of state separation and sovereignty. 

     Photo © iStockphoto.com

There are 263 basins, and 265 aquifers, which cross the political boundaries of two or more countries.  International basins cover 45.3 percent of the earth’s land surface, affect about 40percent of the world’s population, and account for approximately 80 percent of global river flow. Ninety percent of the global population lives in countries with international basins. While the potential for paralyzing disputes is especially high in these basins, history shows that water can catalyze dialogue and cooperation, even between especially contentious riparians. Moreover, as we move from thinking about rights to thinking in terms of equitably sharing “baskets” of benefits, opportunities to cooperate become palpable.

Environmental action and the action of others

Robert Cialdini's picture

The results of a large survey I conducted with my fellow environmental researcher, Wes Schultz, produced a pair of actionable results. First, people who thought their neighbors were conserving energy were more likely to conserve themselves. Second, at the same time, almost all of the nearly 3,000 survey respondents underestimated the conservation efforts of their neighbors. This suggests a simple way to increase conservation activity—by trumpeting the true levels of conservation that are going unrecognized.

To investigate this idea, we examined resource conservation choices in an entirely different setting—upscale hotel rooms, where guests often encounter a card asking them to reuse their towels. As anyone who travels frequently knows, although the wording of this card may vary somewhat, it always requests compliance for the sake of the environment. What the card never says, however, is that the great majority of guests do, in fact, reuse their towels when given the opportunity. We suspected that this omission was costing the hotels—and the environment—plenty.

One Minute to Save the World

Kavita Watsa's picture

A friend sent me the link to “One Minute to Save the World”, an interesting campaign that is inviting one-minute films from people across the world who care about climate change. The organizers are offering £1,000 as first prize for the best film, and there’s a nice line-up of films already. The panel of judges is a qualified one, and includes a number of well-known names, from Shekhar Kapur, Oscar-winning director, to Franny Armstrong of The Age of Stupid fame.

Update from Waso Village, Kenya

Sam Stanyaki's picture
    Photo © Julia Bucknall/World Bank

It is very hard to explain through writing what befell us. The drought is more that what is seen on telly. I am now only left with one cattle. The rest were wiped by the drought. That makes me feel as if there is no future in me. I had a dream of seeing the number I had increase to more than I could think of. Now that dream is gone.

We had rain for only two days, the 15th and 16th of October. This is not enough to make the land green, so we are still hoping for more. I am touched by offers of help. I wish you could make some grass for me. Since there haven't been any rain in most places in the country, we found it difficult to move the cattle in search of grass. Many died on the way.

The World Bank and climate change: Six years down the road

Kseniya Lvovsky's picture

My foray into climate change in the World Bank Group started with the drought-affected regions in Andhra Pradesh, India in 2003. The WB had just started thinking about adaptation to climate change and was trying to begin a dialogue with developing countries dealing with overwhelming challenges of poverty. With my colleagues in India, we began looking at drought-proofing in Andhra Pradesh without labeling this a `climate change’ study. In many ways, this was probably the first attempt to integrate adaptation into a Bank rural poverty reduction project. Two years later, the study was well received and became the pilot for drought-adaptation, to be linked to India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Program.

This experience served as a laboratory for us to learn lessons that have helped mould Bank’s engagement with climate change. It went on to shape the key features of the Strategic Framework on Development and Climate Change (SFDCC) that was approved a year ago. Connecting with client countries and listening to their concerns became the cornerstone for the SFDCC. The Framework was formulated through an extensive global consultation with both World Bank Group staff and external stakeholders. It was the process itself that helped build ownership for climate change work inside the Bank Group and among client countries.

Carbon is the same everywhere, but carbon governance isn't..

Andrea Liverani's picture

Carbon governancethe institutional arrangements in place for mitigating greenhouse gas emissionscan vary considerably across countries. In Brazil, the financial community is actively interested in carbon trading, but Chinese banks have hardly any interest in it. In India, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) market is developed almost uniquely by domestic companies, while China relies extensively on foreign firms. And while the Chinese government takes an active interest in providing capacity to project developers, the Brazilian authorities see their role uniquely as guarantors of environmental integrity of emissions reductions projects. So, if carbon is the same everywhere, why is carbon governance so incredibly varied?

Let's not let climate change distract us from our current problems

Chris Perry's picture
Gathering water. Kenya
   Photo: © Curt Carnemark / World Bank

All "new" priorities risk diverting attention from "old" ones. Climate change seems no different. It seems likely that climate change, through its impact on temperatures and rainfall, will have negative affects on existing water stress in many countries. Crop water demand will increase with temperature, rainfall will decrease in many areas and become more erratic in most. Further, we are already substantially over-drafting many aquifers and damaging river eco-systems.

In parallel with these concerns, Vorasmarty et al (2000) estimate that the impact of economic and population growth will substantially exceed the impacts of climate change on the water demand/supply balance.

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