Resilience Dispatch #31: Systems Change And Sneak Attacks

Apr 1, 2023
In this edition: Systems change and sneak attacks
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In this edition

The climate crisis is a water crisis. Water is really the face of climate change for most of the world’s population. It has been 46 years since the last UN Water Conference. Water – and innovators in the water space – deserve way more airtime in the climate discourse.

In this Resilience Dispatch, part of a larger series on driving investments in natural climate solutions, we look at the big takeaways from the UN Water Conference last month. We also share some of what we’ve learned with our partners on implementing nature-based solutions for water and climate security at scale in the country of Peru.

In this edition:

Water, water, simultaneously everywhere and nowhere on the global agenda

This month, Group of Seven (G7) energy and environment ministers met in Sapporo, Japan to haggle over climate targets. Most current media coverage of the G7 is on a possible near-total G7 export ban to Russia, not the environmental talks. Fair enough. But something small caught my attention in the environment ministers’ communiqué. They talk about the “triple global crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.” Water is at once notably absent and universally present in that framing.

Of course where your electricity will come from in 2050 matters. But when you think about how climate change will be directly experienced – is already being experienced – it is through water: droughts, floods and landslides, pollution, wildfires, food insecurity, rising seas, public health, gender inequality, and so on.

Water is truly the face of climate change for most of us, and yet it so often feels like a second-tier issue on the global agenda. The UN Water Conference in New York at the end of March was the first time in 46 years the UN has actually held a conference on water, which is pretty unbelievable.

The country of Peru has become a world leader in public investment in nature-based solutions for water and climate security. Like water, Peru flies under the radar somewhat when it comes to the climate change agenda – but what’s happening there represents an incredible paradigm shift. Peru’s success lies in shifting the system that surrounds decisions about infrastructure investment: avoiding the trap of standing up a few nature-based demonstration projects with limited ability to scale, Peru is deeply changing the way key institutions understand risk and approach infrastructure planning across government agency silos. And in changing the faces of those institutions themselves, by hiring more women and centering gender equality as fundamental to water security.

Peru’s success is also thanks to policy innovations that often appeared small at the time but have powerful implications, such as a short provision included in the 2015 Modernization of Sanitation Services Law that water utilities should invest in watershed conservation, or tweaking the rules for post-disaster expedited public funding to include ecosystems.

The result is now more than a quarter billion dollars committed to new investment in natural infrastructure for water in Peru in less than five years.

Systems change and sneak attacks – this is how we need to work. We were in great company at the Nature Hub during the UN Climate Conference in New York City in March. The lessons shared in New York are captured in a new article on our website and excerpted below. And stay tuned for a new report series coming this spring on what the world can learn from Peru.  We want to make sure the lessons we’re learning on this journey to mainstream natural infrastructure investments are reaching people who can use them.

Be well,

– Michael Jenkins

Coming soon! Lessons Learned in Scaling Natural Infrastructure in Peru

Our Water Initiative team is producing a series of reports, Lessons Learned in Scaling Natural Infrastructure in Peru, to share barriers, how they were overcome, and how they are mainstreaming and implementing publicly funded nature-based solutions across the country. Subscribe below for updates on report release this spring!

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Gena Gammie, Director of Forest Trends’ Water Initiative at the Nature Hub panel session, “Adapting with Nature: A Global Call to Action on Nature-based Solutions for Water Resilience,” during the UN Water Conference in New York City on March 22, 2023.

Seven Lessons for Scaling up Nature-based Solutions for Water Security: Takeaways from the First UN Water Conference in 46 Years

Last month we were honored to gather experts and practitioners at the Nature Hub in New York City during the UN Water Conference – the first in 46 years – to share lessons learned on scaling up nature-based solutions (NBS) for water. The main aim of the conference this year was to accelerate action to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: Ensure access to clean water and sanitation for all by 2030. The Nature Hub, located a short walk from UN Headquarters, aimed to ensure that nature was considered as part of the UN’s agenda and to gather practitioners of NBS to share their experiences (co-hosted by Forest Trends, The Nature Conservancy, WWF, IUCN, World Water Council, International Water Management Institute, International Network of Basin Organizers). As co-hosts and organizers of two events, we were proud to help elevate NBS on a global stage.

While there are many successful cases of NBS, experience is limited when it comes to bringing these solutions to scale, which we will need to meet global climate goals. Matching the scale of NBS’ potential to support water security with action on the ground will require a new set of strategies on policy, finance, and implementation. Fortunately, early adopters are starting to generate valuable lessons for scaling up NBS for water security. Peru has made particularly remarkable progress, with a 12x increase in NBS investments implemented over the last decade.

Our speakers last week shared their most important takeaways from their experiences implementing nature-based solutions around the world, which we have combined here with our own from Peru:

Read the full blog post.

Nature Hub panel session, “Adapting with Nature: A Global Call to Action on Nature-based Solutions for Water Resilience.” From left to right: John Matthews (Executive Director, AGWA), Erica Gies (moderator, freelance journalist and author of Water Always Wins), Gena Gammie (Director of Forest Trends’ Water Initiative), Adoja Parker (Senior Water Resources Manager, GIZ), Gregg Brill (Senior Researcher, Pacific Institute and Acting Technical Lead, UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate).
Forest Trends’ Nature Hub panel session, “Lessons Learned Accelerating and Scaling up Nature-based Solutions for Water Security.” From left to right: Boris Ochoa-Tocachi (moderator, CEO of ATUK Consoltoría Estratégica and Hydrology Advisor to Forest Trends), Patricia Abreu Fernández (Executive Director of the Santo Domingo Water Fund in the Dominican Republic), Rebecca Davidson (Senior Director of Conservation Programs at the National Forest Foundation), Seth Schultz (CEO of Resilience Rising), Cyrille Barnérias (Director of International Relations, France’s Biodiversity Agency (OFB)), Vincent Lee (Principal and Technical Director of Water, ARUP).
Gena Gammie setting the stage for our panel event, “Lessons Learned Accelerating and Scaling up Nature-based Solutions for Water Security.”