event 01 Dec 2021

Nexus Blog // Overview of the COP26 session: Water, climate, and borders: The role of River Basin Cooperation for Climate Resilience

In the first ever Water Pavilion at the Climate Conference COP26 on November 12, 2021, the GIZ alongside UNECE Secretariat of the Water Convention, with Lake Kivu and River Rusizi Basin Authority (ABAKIR), Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), Mekong River Commission (MRC), Niger Basin Authority (NBA), Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) held a session titled “Water, climate, and borders: The role of River Basin Cooperation for climate Resilience”. This hybrid session saw speakers from a variety of River Basin Organizations (RBO) discuss the challenges faced, proposed solutions, and the use of RBOs in supporting the fight against climate change through coordination.

RBO session cover picture

The importance of transboundary cooperation

Tanja Gönner, Chair of the Management Board at GIZ, started off the session with a strong message: “Climate change knows no borders – and neither does water”! Gönner emphasized the importance of transboundary cooperation as a way of ensuring individual country mitigation factors do not create unintentional negative consequences on neighboring states.

Gönner highlighted the value of Basin Organizations, and the opportunity they present in coordinating adaptation and mitigation activities across borders.

The Niger Basin Authority

Abderahim Bireme Hamid, Executive Secretary of the Niger Basin Authority (NBA) took the floor and laid out the challenges that the NBA and its member countries were facing; namely the intense vulnerability of the Sahel region to the effects of climate change, increasing security concerns within the region and the growing mistrust of the populations towards governments. The NBA has set up long-term plans to strengthen the basin’s resilience to climate change, developing a Water Charter of the Niger Basin and institutional frameworks geared toward water management.

“In order to address the challenges of climate change, the NBA as a Transboundary Basin Organisation plays an important role in terms of adaptation and mitigation of the impact of climate change”

- Abderahim Bireme Hamid, Executive Secretary - Niger Basin Authority

The Mekong River Commission

An Pich Hatda, Executive Secretary of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat carried on the discussion by highlighting the MRC 10-year Basin Development strategy, designed to optimize regional benefits, promote shared development responsibility and mitigate the threats that the Mekong River Basin is facing. In 2019 and 2020, severe droughts caused the Mekong water levels to fall to its lowest recorded point. The Basin is also threatened by declining fish stocks, riverbank erosion, and reduced replenishment of the Mekong Delta as a result of intensive water use and climate change.

“The Mekong River Basin’s plight demands […] a collective responsibility, by all parties, to protect the Mekong River’s delicate aquatic ecosystem amidst rapid development and intensified climate change.”

- Dr. An Pich Hatda, Executive Secretary – Mekong River Commission

The Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organisation

The final keynote speech was presented by María Alexandra Moreira López, General Secretary of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO). López spoke about ACTO’s support to the eight basin countries to mitigate the effects of climate change through multi-thematic and multi-sectoral approaches.

“Basin Organisations are strategically placed to facilitate climate adaptation across boundaries and support member countries in their national efforts through regional cooperation, capacity building, [and] information exchange.”

- Alexandra Moreira, Secretary General - Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organisation

López announced the recent launching of the amazon Regional Observatory, a permanent virtual forum created to be catalyst of regional and global coordination for the Amazon. While ACTO is taking steps to support transboundary climate mitigation, institutionalizing transboundary cooperation into Nationally Determined Contributions may prove challenging.

Challenges and Solutions

Following the keynote speeches, a series of panelists gathered for a fruitful discussion on some of the challenges RBOs face within their region. The panelists included Hycinth Baneska, Technical Director of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC); Christine Niyotwambaza, Deputy Director General of Rwanda Water Resources Board and Technical Advisory Committee Chair for ABAKI; and Harry Liiv, Chair of the Water Convention and co-chair of the Russian-Estonian commission on transboundary waters.

Mr. Banseka from LCBC started off the discussion by laying out some solutions to the challenges that climate change brings to the region, which include floods and droughts. The LCBC is working with populations to decrease the volatility of agriculture under changing climate conditions that lead to decreased yields. This includes working with local populations in member states to promote the use of short duration seeds, as well as supporting them with diversification in order to encourage off-season cropping and mitigation for bad initial harvests. The Commission is also supporting agroforestry to stop erosion and encourage ecosystem restoration.

“The LCBC works with partners to establish a regional climate change adaptation strategy for all the member countries – a framework document which serves as guidance in the area of climate change and helps to facilitate exchanges between farmers and learn from each other in order to adapt to the changing climate context”.

- Hycinth Baneska, Technical Director, Lake Chad Basin Commission.

Niyotwambaza from Rwanda followed up by discussion how RBOs build capacity within member states, and how vital it is for states to work together on water management and enhance cooperation.

Liiv offered concrete examples from Lake Peipus, stating there has been a shift from primarily cool water fish species to warm water fish species due to a changing ecosystem, a result of climate change and human activities. Thus, emphasizing the need to implement water management plans and create fishery quotas to deal with declining stocks of cool water fish species. The Commission focus is on monitoring, data exchange, and how to implement water management plans jointly.


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