Brice Lalonde: “water stakeholders must now urge states to take action”

Published on Wednesday 23 March 2016

Environmentalist and former Environment Minister, Brice Lalonde* takes part in all international summits regarding the future of our planet. Alain Boinet, founder of SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL humanitarian organization, met him after COP 21. Brice Lalonde attended as spokesman for the French Water Partnership (PFE).

“About 3.5 billion people do not have access to real drinking water, 2.6 million people die each year from water-borne diseases and, in ten years, 63% of the population will be subject to water stress. So, is universal access to drinking water and sanitation achievable by 2030 as we hope?”

“The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will, in any case, help us to improve the situation. After the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we saw teams getting passionate and mobilizing, funding being focused and many national governments took it upon themselves to say: ‘It is also the objective of our country to achieve the MDGs when in fact these MDGs were only supposed to be overall goals. It will be same with the SDGs.
We may not be able to make the same effort for all of the 17 SDGs but water will probably be one of the priorities. The job is to ensure that each national government adopts the SDGs as key priorities for the development of their country. As for the United Nations and other international organizations, NGOs such as advocacy agencies, the job will consist in demanding each state a year-by-year account of the implementation of the SDGs.

The Sustainable Development Goals are a huge step forward, especially for water. But will the political determination of states, the funding, and the measuring and monitoring instruments be up to the objectives? What is the role of water stakeholders in achieving this?
Water is so essential to development in all its forms that, anyway, for any government, it has become indispensable. The most complex issue for governments is to decide where they should start. Should they start by bringing water to the city centres? Should they bring it to the outskirts? Or should water be brought to the countryside not to worsen rural exodus? These issues are extremely difficult to solve. One needs to avoid the drift from the land and, at the same time, relieve urban misery one way or another. We must also develop a less water-intensive form of agriculture. There are obviously places where it is more difficult than in others, especially in the diagonal “line of thirst” stretching from Gibraltar to North-East China. The role of water stakeholders will be to push for the implementation of a strategy. This is the objective of the big players: how do you implement the SDGs? And in this, there is a considerable ally – Europe and its 28 Member States which is the largest donor in the world. There is in Europe a quite outstanding expertise. I am thinking for example about the Dutch on the prevention of floods. Such skills must be counted upon.

“For the first time, water was taken into account by COP 21. However, it does not appear in the final declaration.” AB

Even if, for the first time, water was taken into account by COP 21 on climate change in Paris in late 2015, there is nothing in this regard in the final declaration. This is worrying!
“Water Resources” is written in large letters in the 1992 framework convention. Now, it is this framework convention which sets the tone. The Paris agreement is only an agreement for implementation of the framework convention. COP 21 establishes a whole scheme for the next COP on the question of adaptation. And we know that when we talk about adaptation, water comes first. There’s no escaping it.

Facing climate change, there are two responses – global warming mitigation and adaptation to its damaging consequences. However, nothing is clearly defined concerning adaptation when 80% of the measures that should be taken concern water – floods, water-scarcity, sea-level rise!
Exactly, and the French Water Partnership has begun this work which must now be pursued by the World Health Organisation or the French Development Agency (AFD). However, when they are solicited for financial assistance on adaptation, they ask: “what is ‘adaptation’? What is the ‘bankable’ project?” Therefore, there should be a typology of adaptation programs on water. It is now the work of practitioners and experts. There may be, in this typology, post-emergency cases and crisis situations. This typology is the work of the next COP which is expressly requested by the Paris agreement.

Climate change amplifies the intensity and regularity of natural disasters, in the Sahel and elsewhere. Adaptation measures and population resilience building are urgent. How is this ‘Green Fund’ and its 100-billion annual budget available only from 2020 improving?
If you take into account private investment, we have reached the target already. We are told that we are close to 90 billion euros. This is not only assistance, but also financial flows, loans… Obviously, there is no magic; we must help countries in need. But in the end, it is the countries themselves which develop according to their will and desires.
There are countries which have set an example. Sometimes this is expensive, but take the example of Singapore which, being so intent on being independent from Malaysia, has developed an incredible water policy. They recycle everything. Desalination, recycling, rain, a little importing… it is phenomenal. And this will serve elsewhere, in countries where financial resources are less important. There will be invitations to tender in other countries and the techniques developed in Singapore will be much cheaper since one will already have the expertise. Water specialists agree that one way or another you have to pay for water: in kind, effort, time or money. The OECD uses the phrase “the 3Ts” – tariffs, taxes and transfers. Of course, water is free. What is not free is service – looking for water, cleaning it, conducting it, delivering it, returning it clean. It is already a battle to convince the population that there is no free lunch!

At SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL, we believe in the partnership between the various stakeholders to face the exponential increase in humanitarian needs. If some companies are really committed, are invested resources up to their responsibilities?
I think, first and foremost, these companies need to be made an offer with something. If they are presented with a solution, a project, they will be up for it. One must show enough imagination to find the one innovative idea that will make companies join in. Let us not forget that companies sometimes experience difficulties. If they disappear, they are useless. But large companies must make an effort. They are not here only to increase their turnover, but also to help the whole world with their experience and expertise. Some of the major water companies have found ways to make the first litres of water free.

“If they say that access to water is a human fundamental right, this right must be implemented. Therefore, we need an accountable UN organisation. “BL

2015 has been a great year of international conferences, especially as far as water and sanitation are concerned. How can this trend be entertained and how to avoid any risk of demobilization in pursuit of ambitious goals of universal access to water and sanitation by 2030?
There have indeed been many venues in 2015. But there is no organization within the United Nations that is dedicated to water. One of the real questions is to decide whether to create or to regroup organizations in order to keep an eye on and run the implementation of SDG 6 concerning water. I think this is the direction we should take. It may require that the United Nations pass on their legitimacy to the World Water Forum or that we create an organization similar to the IPCC. The question needs to be debated. If water is declared a fundamental human right, this right must be implemented. Therefore, there should be an organization in charge.

*Secretary of State for Environment then Minister of Environment from 1988 to 1992, Brice Lalonde was notably Ambassador to international negotiations on climate change for France from 2007 to 2011, then spokesman for the French Water Partnership during COP 21. He is now Assistant Secretary-General for The United Nations Organization and Executive Coordinator of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

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