NEXUS Platform: Mr Bonvoisin, could you briefly explain to our readers the background and main objectives of the UNECE Water Convention and its activities until date?
Nick Bonvoisin: The UNECE Water Convention was originally negotiated as a regional (pan-European) treaty. It was signed in 1992 and entered into force in 1996. Following a decision by the Parties taken in 2003, the Water Convention is in the process of opening up globally to States outside the UNECE region to join this framework and share the accumulated experience.
The main obligations under the Water Convention are the following: i) Protection of transboundary waters by preventing, controlling and reducing transboundary impacts, ii) Reasonable and equitable use of transboundary waters, and iii) Cooperation through agreements and joint institutions. In brief, the Convention supports transboundary cooperation in managing and protecting shared waters – both surface and groundwaters.
The activities under the Convention include support to its implementation through – for example – guidance, field projects and assistance in preparing agreements; preparation of technical guidelines; assessment of the status of transboundary waters and of pressures exerted on them; and support to cooperation on specific issues like adaptation to climate change. Among the great values of the Convention to States are the solid legal and institutional framework, and the platform for exchanging experience that it provides.
Nick Bonvoisin is Secretary of the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes and Co- Secretary of the Protocol on Water and Health since April 2013. // UNECE Website
What are the key nexus-challenges that occur in transboundary basins within the UNECE region from a resource, institutional and also financial point of view? In which basins do we find first approaches/best practice in actively dealing with these challenges?
A lack of coordination and integration of policies (economic sectors, environment, climate) resulting in conflicting signals and low coherence have emerged as a major challenge in the region.
Among the factors that constrain the States in addressing the nexus in a transboundary setting are missing agreements or institutions, composition or limited mandate of existing institutions, decision-making processes and weak enforcement capacity. It is not easy for water and environment authorities to involve, for example, the energy sector and the different scales of planning complicate further the picture.
Joint bodies like river basin commissions do experience resource constraints. Often there is not adequate financing to support joint programmes available to tackle specific issues. The States could cooperate more to share also the costs of management measures which bring mutual benefits, like operation and maintenance of infrastructure, allowing also broader involvement in decision-making.
The current situation and practice is something that we will evaluate and take stock of in the course of the assessment of the Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystems Nexus in selected transboundary basins, so it is too early to point at specific basins. Nevertheless, in some basins, steps have been taken to advance cross-sectoral dialogue and planning. For example, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River coordinated, in cooperation with the Sava Commission and the Danube Navigation Commission, a process of intensive, cross-sectoral consensus building between stakeholders in navigation, river ecology and water management. This process led to the adoption in 2007 of a Joint Statement on Guiding Principles for the Development of Inland Navigation and Environmental Protection in the Danube River Basin, which underlines the importance of defining joint planning objectives.
In what way can the UNECE Helsinki Convention as a legal framework help riparian countries in addressing the nexus in transboundary cooperation? Where do you see necessary interfaces to other regional and or national conventions and/or institutions?
Transboundary agreements have always been about the different water uses. In a transboundary context in particular – to reduce conflicts – a balance needs to be found between various uses and protection of the resource. This requires negotiating about the trade-offs, reducing them, and increasing synergies. What we need is an increased understanding of the inter-linkages in the nexus and dialogue, effective institutions and legal frameworks that facilitate the above, decision-support tools, sound regulations and, where appropriate, economic tools. A general prerequisite is political willingness – willingness to reconcile and share benefits.
The UNECE Water Convention is a framework Convention by nature – it does not replace bilateral (or other multi-lateral) or basin-level agreements which adapt and translate its principles into each specific setting and needs of the countries. Transboundary cooperation is firmly based on the national institutions and systems, such as monitoring networks. At best the joint or coordinating institutions at the transboundary level can draw upon the national institutions and the diverse expertise they represent, and it is the national institutions that have to play their role in the follow-up to the joint bodies' decisions for the cooperation to result in concrete action on the ground.
The UNECE Watercourses Convention Secretariat has embarked on developing a nexus assessment tool. How will it be implemented over the next 12 months and in what way do you expect it to assist basins in dealing with nexus challenges? What additional support would be necessary or desirable?
The transboundary dimension of the nexus has so far been considered very little. One valuable contribution I believe we can make is to use the convening power of the Water Convention to bring together the representatives of different sectors to jointly identify the key inter-sectoral impacts and trade-offs, and to also find some potential solutions. The basin-level process will allow the different sectors' views to be heard. We will mobilise high-level international expertise to analyse the relevant data for the basins in close cooperation with the national officials and help to tease out hidden opportunities and potentially sensitive issues to be addressed constructively.
Concretely, in the coming months the draft assessment methodology will be elaborated – incorporating feedback from stakeholders – and relevant indicators identified. We are currently in the process of confirming the piloting of the methodology on a transboundary basin in the course of the autumn 2013. In parallel, the UNECE secretariat is waiting for confirmations from the national authorities about the basins to be assessed. In the spring of 2014, we expect to have at least two basins in some stage of assessment, with an approach adjusted according to the experience from the piloting.
Considering the resources that we have managed to secure for the process, the aims are admittedly ambitious. Challenges around the nexus are highly topical and there is tremendous political demand for the kind of information that this work will produce. Some very promising partnerships are emerging but there is a need to mobilize more funds and in-kind support for the basin assessments and countries' participation in particular. Additional resources would allow increasing the impact of the exercise, but the key input in any case is a genuine engagement of the participating countries and commissions.
Thank you for the interview!