Water – facilitating collaborative dialogues

Darío Soto-Abril, Global Water Partnership CEO

International collaboration will be essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and this will require trusted partners to facilitate negotiations. Erika Yarrow-Soden talks to Darío Soto-Abril, of the Global Water Partnership, about priority needs on issues around climate change.


Last year’s UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) brought together 120 world leaders and more than 40,000 registered participants, including 22,274 party delegates, 14,124 observers and 3886 media representatives. Given the impact of the global pandemic, the Glasgow Climate Pact may seem like a distant memory, but the outcome of two weeks of intense negotiations is considered to have produced building blocks to advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Speaking at the time, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “The approved texts are a compromise. They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today. They take important steps, but unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions.”

Dario Soto-Abril, Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Water Partnership (GWP), attended COP26. He offers his analysis: “I think COP26 was successful. It did raise the bar in terms of the urgency and the motivation of the countries and the private sector to come together. Commitments to decarbonisation and to reduce deforestation are positive things that I have taken away from COP26, along with the development of public-private partnerships. The challenge with all this is what happens afterwards. COP26 had good speeches and good agreements, and more complete KPIs [key performance indicators] than we have had in the past. But there is nothing really concrete about what will happen now. What will happen between the different COPs. We still have the hesitation of countries such as China, India and Brazil, and without them around the table it will be very tricky to meet the goals that were set. The part that concerns me are the countries that weren’t there, countries such as Russia, China, India, Brazil.

“There is an increase of drought that we are having right now because of climate change, and we are seeing the consequences of this in Chile, Argentina, and California. On the other side of the coin, we are seeing floods. Last year, we saw floods in Europe. Climate patterns are changing. It’s not just the changes in climate, but also changes in land use. Deforestation is impacting rain patterns. In South America we are seeing more wildfires and there are concerns with regards to food security. This is even creating civil unrest in some places. The challenges for the next generation will be energy, transportation of goods through the rivers for countries such as Bolivia and Paraguay that are reliant on rivers, and transboundary cooperation. The question is how we get countries to sit around the same table and discuss issues such as water and the river basin. Those are the two things that need to be high on the agenda.”

To support this, GWP is increasing dialogue at regional level. Soto-Abril explains: “We have tried to frame conversations to focus on regional organisations. We want to help allow these conversations to be brought up with more neutrality, so they are less confrontational and less conflicting, and in the spirit of collaboration. We are also focusing on projects that countries can do together, focusing on collaboration to help increase confidence between neighbouring countries. An element of this is to not only involve government, but also the private sector and NGOs and communities. We have found that communities in different countries are getting closer and talking more fluidly than the governments themselves. We have found this to be a good model.”

Launched at COP26, the Continental Africa Water Investment Programme (AIP) is a pan-African programme that aims to transform investment for climate resilient water and sanitation on the continent. Its goal is to mobilise $30 billion of investments across Africa by 2030, creating five million jobs.

Soto-Abril explains: “We are creating a better environment for investment and partnership in water infrastructure in Africa. What is different about this is that we are getting different African countries and the African Development Bank to invest. We are talking about green infrastructure and more climate resilient infrastructure. What is different from previous work of this kind is that we are seeing a great commitment from the African countries themselves, whereas, in the past, the funding would usually come from Europe or North America. Here, the African countries have committed resources, expertise and knowledge. This is not only about investment, but also better access to information and creating leadership from within civil society and the communities that we are working with.

“We are also working to raise the presence of emerging female leaders in terms of gender equality on water – women who can sit with the government and discuss what is needed in terms of water and climate resilience for their communities. This is an experience that could be translated to other regions, in Asia, Latin America, and Central America.”

Africa contributes only 4% to global emissions, yet it is at the greatest risk of climate crises. Increased and prolonged droughts have been affecting vast swathes of East Africa and the island of Madagascar. One in three people across Africa faces water scarcity daily, and nearly 400 million people in sub-Saharan Africa struggle to find access to drinking water. Water crises can only be eased if water is treated as a top priority by international climate policymakers and if countries manage their water resources in an integrated way.

Soto-Abril concludes: “It is important that we talk about the integration of climate and water. Climate gets a lot of attention and water is sometimes missed out. We need to remember that water is the basis of everything. It is a basic for life, and many of the changing climate patterns we are seeing are closely associated with water. We need to have a deeper conversation about water – and, importantly, we need to bring this conversation to people beyond the water sector, to the climate community, the business community, and to governments. The goal for me is to keep pushing water as the central topic in climate conversations.” •


What is the Global Water Partnership?

The Global Water Partnership (GWP) is a global network focused on the sustainable management of water resources. It works to mobilise action on the global water crisis through a combination of social capital, shared values, empowering communities, and the exchange of expertise. Its aim is to enable the ‘voices of water’ to influence local, national, regional and global development priorities, and advance governance and management of water resources for sustainable and equitable development.

The Partnership prioritises opportunities where key global or regional policy frameworks seek to promote systemic changes, such as the 2030 Agenda (SDGs), the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Sendai Agreement on Disaster Risk Reduction, and agreements shaping transboundary cooperation. It supports work on the policies and investment plans that help countries resolve water-related trade-offs inherent in achieving SDGs and raises awareness of the need to achieve the 2030 Agenda as a whole. In addition, the Partnership works to introduce water-specific insights into national dialogues, planning, and investments associated with climate resilience-related development priorities, and facilitates access to climate finance for resilience-building water projects. It works across sectors and administrative borders to identify solutions that promote sustainable transboundary water resources management, facilitating dialogue across political jurisdictions as a neutral convener.