Zeroing in on water security

REC takes part in Concluding Meeting of the 23rd OSCE Economic and Environmental Forum

September 21, 2015

OSCE_CropConvened by the OSCE Chairmanship (held in 2015 by the Government of the Republic of Serbia) and the Office of the Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities, the Concluding Meeting of the 23rd OSCE Economic and Environmental Forum took place on September 14-16, 2015 in Prague. Hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, the focus of the event was "Water governance in the OSCE area: Increasing security and stability through cooperation".

The meeting built on the results of two preparatory meetings held in Vienna (on January 26-27) and in Belgrade (on May 11-13). Discussion topics included: good water governance across different levels; water governance within the water-food-energy-ecosystems nexus; the context of sustainable development and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the participation of civil society and the private sector in water governance; and the call to respond effectively to disaster risk. The REC contributed to by facilitating discussion on effective water governance in the context of the global climate change agenda and other new environmental challenges in, for example, transboundary river basins and at community level.

The Republic of Germany will take up the OSCE Chairmanship in 2016 when good environmental governance will be in the spotlight, but with a stronger focus on sustainable connectivity, economic aspects and business sector involvement.

The annual OSCE Economic and Environmental Forum process provides a platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue by bringing together officials from the 57 OSCE participating States and 11 OSCE Partner for Co-operation countries, high-level representatives from international organisations, as well as from civil society and academic and business communities. Its main objective is to stimulate deeper political dialogue, and to generate commitments and recommendations for concrete activities to assist countries in dealing with economic and environmental aspects of security. The two-way relationship between water and security (water as a source of conflict and water co-operation as a tool for conflict prevention) makes "water" an important topic for the OSCE. Global population increases and greater pressures on water resources make water issues a primary centre of immediate attention. Water governance has played and will continue to play a major factor in local, regional and global security.

While water governance presents significant challenges, it also provides opportunities for policy makers to prevent conflicts and enable greater regional cooperation. This becomes ever more important as water quality deteriorates and as demographic and socioeconomic developments increase the demand for water resources. These trends are exacerbated by the impacts of climate change, which contributes to shortfalls in supply, salinisation, floods, and disasters caused by extreme weather events. Environmental changes are likely to intensify existing social and political conflicts, and even trigger new ones, particularly in regions that lack robust institutions for cooperation. The REC, through its mandates and work programmes, has therefore been actively engaged in strengthening water governance in its countries of operation together with its resources partners and the OSCE within the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC), a partnership of the OSCE, REC, UNDP, UNECE and UNEP.

Acknowledging that water management is about achieving goals and performance management, water governance is about joint decision making. It is about consensus building and conflict resolution, and about external legitimization, which implies accountability. This, in turn, requires public discourse, rule of law, and checks and balances. Both management and governance -- and vice versa -- are important.

Reflecting a global consensus and high-level political commitments to development and environmental cooperation, the REC continues to support the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and beyond in the adoption of global and regional water policies. In the strategic period 2016-2020, the REC will give greater attention to water-related issues by embracing a broad selection of stakeholder interests and concerns. This work will contribute to integrated water resources management, including the management of shared resources, adaptation to climate change, and the achievement of goals and targets related to drinking water supply and sanitation.