International water law and the SDGs: GCI at World Water Week

Managing internationally shared water resource can pose many challenges, such as water allocation for different or conflicting uses, infrastructure development, and the provision of ecosystem services. The decisions made around water resource development and management affect progress in sustainable development.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) being proposed to the UN General Assembly in September include targets to implement integrated water resource management at all levels by 2030 – including across borders where needed – and to protect and restore water-related ecosystems by 2020, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers, and lakes.
Marie-Laure Vercambre, Director of GCI’s Water for Peace and Life Programme, made the case for global frameworks on water law at the World Water Week in Stockholm yesterday, where Green Cross co-convened a session about implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in shared basins through international water law.
The session explored how global and regional water law provisions can contribute to achieving the SDGs and ensuring the sustainable development of water. Vercambre argued that, while water basins may be local, guidance and common frameworks are needed to address their complex challenges.
On behalf of the UN Watercourses Convention Global Initiative, of which GCI is a founding member, Vercambre called upon all countries to become States Parties to the UN Watercourses Convention and/or the UNECE Water Convention. Current parties should influence their neighbours and partner countries to join and authorize regional economic integration organizations to also accede to the conventions and engage in their implementation. She recommended that they ask the UN General Assembly to give a mandate to the appropriate UN agency or program to lead efforts to raise awareness, promote accession, and implement the conventions within the UN system, and that they request a High Level Political Forum on sustainable development to incorporate the implementation of the conventions into the monitoring framework of the SDGs.
Sixty per cent of transboundary water basins are not currently subject to agreements while 80 per cent of the agreements that do exist are bilateral and do not necessarily involve all basin states. Many national laws are outdated or non-existent. If massively ratified, global legal frameworks would foster a common language and shared understanding, leading to increased cooperation, and would facilitate negotiations thanks to the agenda and procedures available, she said.
States struggle to implement multiple agreements in an coordinated way. With global frameworks, laws could be harmonized both within countries and between them. These legal frameworks would make sustainable technical work on the environment and ecosystems practical, and provide guidance for the implementation of the SDGs.
The session also included presentations by speakers from University College York, the Nile Basin Initiative, the South African Development Community, UNESCO, and the Stockholm International Water Institute, as well as an interactive discussion with the audience. It was one of over 160 events on the topic of Water for Development taking place in Stockholm from Sunday August 23 to Friday August 28. Find out more about World Water Week here.