Next week, Forest Trends will join over 200 organizations from around the world in Stockholm for the annual World Water Week (WWW) meetings. This year’s WWW focuses on Water for Sustainable Growth, and it shines a light on an important realization: twentieth-century approaches – more storage, pipes, and treatment plants – are not sufficient for 21st century water challenges. Communities around the world are struggling to maintain basic water services in the face of growing scarcity, increasing floods and droughts, deteriorating water quality, and inadequate infrastructure. Meanwhile, not enough money is being spent to meet existing infrastructure needs, let alone build for future needs, and traditional water management is degrading the very natural systems – forests, wetlands, and other “green infrastructure” – that is essential for capturing, cleaning, and regulating water flows.
World Water Week: Then and Now
Since 1991, WWW has been the focal point for collaboration and deep examination of critical issues in water. It serves as a platform for “cross-fertilization” and innovation to solve some of the most pressing issues of our time – ensuring access to safe water and sanitation for all, considering the needs of people and ecosystems in water management, and securing a sustainable water future under conditions of deep uncertainty around climate change.
This year’s WWW comes at a time when breaking down sectoral and professional silos is more important than ever if we are to achieve the ambitious goals in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The 2030 Agenda provides a huge window of opportunity for integrating across the development, food security, climate, conservation, and water sectors and for aligning actions to deliver on multiple objectives. Investing in green infrastructure as a key part of a sustainable development strategy will be a common message across many of the sessions and discussions in Stockholm this year.
The central themes of the week in Stockholm – including the need for new approaches to water; the importance of investing in natural capital or green infrastructure as a key component of water security and resilience; and the urgent demand for innovative financing for green infrastructure – are all themes that are at the heart of Forest Trends’ Water Initiative. We work with partners around the world to change the way water is managed, by bringing investments in green infrastructure into the mainstream to ensure that green solutions are part of a multi-pronged approach to water security. (For a timely example, read about recent victories in Peru, where policymakers have given these kinds of green investments the “green light.”)
On the Ground in Stockholm
In collaboration with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Forest Trends is co-convening a session on Natural Infrastructure for Water: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, with panelists from SDC, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP-DHI), The Nature Conservancy, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the South Pole Group. We will explore how a harmonious marriage of green and gray infrastructure in water management can not only more effectively deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – Goal 6 sets out to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” – but also contribute to a broad suite of other sustainable development goals. These benefits include improving food security and health, especially for marginalized populations; helping to build sustainable, resilient cities; providing climate mitigation and adaptation; and protecting life on land and below water.
Panelists Rupert Edwards from Forest Trends and Tilmann Silber from the South Pole group will lend their expertise on aligning public and private finance for green infrastructure projects that deliver multiple benefits – including the role of corporate water stewardship and commitments to sustainable supply chains. This session will also help set the stage for our upcoming report on the State of Watershed Investments 2016, as well as the Katoomba Marketplace series, which Forest Trends is launching this fall with a Latin American-focused meeting in Lima The series, which includes proposed future meetings in Denver, Zurich, West Africa, and China, will provide platforms for collaboration between financiers, water utilities, conservationists, and green infrastructure developers to build concrete proposals for scaling finance for green infrastructure.
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We are also co-convening a session on the importance of forests to urban water security, Forests, Water, and Sustainable Growth for Cities, in partnership with the Swedish International Water Institute’s Swedish Water House, Center for International Forestry, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and others. I’ll be presenting case studies from the western US highlighting the importance of forests in helping cities manage water risks – a topic that is once again in the news as 26 large wildfires in eight western states have burned over 400,000 acres this season. These examples will be part of a larger set of case studies that Forest Trends will publish this fall as part of our Cities and Watersheds Compendium, a look at how urban water managers are successfully addressing barriers to large-scale green infrastructure to address water resiliency in cities.
Finally, Forest Trends will join the panel discussion, Options for Water Security: How should we decide?, organized by the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation; CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land, and Ecosystems; International Union for the Conservation of Nature; the International Water Management Institute; and the Overseas Development Institute. Two panel sessions in this event will engage in a wide-ranging discussion about what water security means from different perspectives, who makes decisions about water security, and how these may affect the relative focus on green vs. gray infrastructure strategies.