Streaming Live From World Water Forum: Nations, Businesses Consider the Way Forward

by | Mar 18, 2009

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bjorn-mug2What is the connection between water, energy and climate change?

This is just one of the many questions that are being discussed this week at the World Water Forum (WWF) in Istanbul, Turkey – the premiere global event that aims to help set the water agenda for the next three years. As the bridge between Asia and Europe, Istanbul is the perfect city to host more than 20,000 NGOs and business and government leaders who are committed to developing innovative solutions to an important global issue.

How is the growing population exacerbating water scarcity?

Right now, the planet faces a crisis that will escalate if we don’t find ways to protect and use our precious water resources more wisely. Under present conditions and with the way water is being managed, we could run out of clean water long before we run out of fuel. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the pumping of water alone accounts for more than 20 percent of all global energy consumption, and according to a UN report, more than one billion people lack access to clean drinking water.

The World Water Forum opened March 16 with greetings from Oktay Tabasaran, secretary general of the Forum, who welcomed participants, emphasizing the forum’s main objective: to urgently address the issue of efficient water use. The weight of water in global affairs was indicative of the dignataries who participatedin the opening forum, including Kadir Topbas, mayor of Istanbul; Veysel Eroglu, environment and forestry minister of Turkey; UN Undersecretary-General Sha Zukang, on behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Naruhito Kotaishi, crown prince of Japan; and Abbas El Fassi, prime minister of Morocco. The keynote address was delivered by Abdullah Gül, president of the Republic of Turkey, who said that water is not only a technical issue, but a matter that requires political attention and priority at the highest level.

The forum’s focus is on the connections between water, energy and climate change. On Thursday, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) will launch a new paper, “Water, Energy and Climate Change,” that showcases these interconnections and its link to other global crises including food, energy and the economy. (Full Disclosure: As co-chairs of the WBCSD Water Project, ITT Chairman Steve Loranger and Borealis CEO Mark Garrett co-signed the report.)

As compared to previous forums, it seems that the private sector has finally gained a more prominent voice, largely through the efforts of WBCSD and Business Action for Water, a business industry group. There is however, still quite a bit of debate about the success of public-private partnerships, the right to water and how to properly value water. Many have asked, who is not represented at this forum? Which communities and parts of society don’t have a representative voice in these conversations? To me, this represents an attempt among the various sectors to work together to find common solutions.

What are the risks and liabilities of inaction?

The global financial crisis is also top of mind here in Istanbul. At a panel of technical experts on water and the financial crisis, the audience heard that worldwide an estimated $30 billion to $40 billion dollars worth of global water infrastructure is expected to be canceled or delayed in the next year-about 20 percent of total global investment.

The panel pointed out that the financial crisis is causing a restriction of credit and increasing the cost of borrowing. Some at the conference said that financial investors need a balanced, predictable way to understand investments; unfortunately, the current financial models don’t effectively capture water efficiency and inadequately predict factors, such as job creation in a community. Finally, a general observation was made that the discussions about water infrastructure investments-unlike climate change-has not yet permeated the highest level of decision makers around the world.

What is the role of business in developing solutions?

Business has a key role to play in advancing the global water debate. This is not only an environmental issue, but a business and public policy issue that will directly affect companies’ ability to compete in the global marketplace. Companies need to analyze their water risk, invest in new technologies and innovations and take action to help solve the global water challenge. They need to collaborate with governments, NGOs and think tanks to raise awareness about the issue and develop solutions to provide safe water to all. Working together, we can achieve this goal.

I will continue to share my thoughts and insights from the forum throughout the week. My hope is to spark dialogue and inspire action around this important global issue. Though I remain hopeful that the outcomes of this forum will help us move toward solving some of these issues, unless there is cross-sector collaboration, we will not be able to address the huge challenges surrounding water. All sectors must take the water issue seriously; we must understand water’s link to disaster response and recovery, food security, energy, climate change and to our business.

Bjorn Von Euler, director of corporate philanthropy for ITT Corp., will be reporting for Environmental Leader all week from Istanbul, Turkey, at the World Water Forum.

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