The first gathering of the parties of the UN Watercourses Convention, which took place on 15-16 September 2015, was a great leap forward for global legal water governance. The entry into force of this legal instrument had been long awaited by the first countries that ratified it in 1997. It was also a historic day for Green Cross, WWF and a few other organizations that have been promoting accession to the UN Watercourses Convention for years.
“This was the first meeting of the parties of the first global water convention,” said Marie-Laure Vercambre, Green Cross Water for Life and Peace programme Director. “The Water Convention of the UNECE Region (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) was amended so that countries outside of the Region can accede to it, but this change is not yet in effect. It should be the case soon. That means, in a short period of time, the international community went from no global convention on transboundary basins (transboundary basins represent 60 per cent of all freshwater on Earth) to two. These developments are major and timely as we enter a new era of international cooperation defined by the post-2015 development agenda.”
The UN Watercourses Convention (whose official name is Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses) entered into force in August 2014 – almost two decades after its adoption by the UN General Assembly. It took the Convention 17 years to reach the 35 State-parties threshold that was required by its status.
“The family still needs to grow,” continued vercambre. “Only about 60 countries have ratified one of the two conventions, or both, so far.”
Green Cross was invited to participate in the second day of the informal gathering of the parties on 16 September. The meeting is said to be “informal” because the Convention does not contain a requirement for such meetings as yet – nor is there a plan for a secretariat. Germany, the Netherlands and Finland acted as convenors in collaboration with UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP). Two thirds of the state parties to the Convention sent representatives to Paris. A number of representatives from Non-party states also attended and showed interest, having been invited alongside stakeholders for the second day of the meeting. These included Ethiopia, Iran and the United States, among others.
All participants commended the UN Watercourses Convention’s entry into force as a major event in international water law, and noted that – if it is effectively implemented – it will lead to positive developments for global water governance and management. The UNESCO meeting marked the beginning of a new dynamic, particularly a shift in focus to the ensuring that the countries that ratify the convention are abiding by its principles.
The UNECE Water Convention (whose full name is Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes) is very close in scope to the Watercourses Convention and has twenty-five years of experience to share. The two conventions are expected to enhance each other, and to foster similar enabling environments for the use, management and protection of the worlds’ transboundary basins and aquifers. The parties to the UNECE Water Convention, 15 of which are also parties to the UN Watercourses Convention, will meet in Budapest in November 2015 . This next meeting will offer the opportunity to further discuss the new international water law landscape, the cohabitation of the two conventions and their future.
Since both instruments are important elements in the peaceful and equitable management of shared water resources, Green Cross is determined to continue its promotion work and to assist countries and stakeholders in the implementation of the conventions.