Speech by Peter Eriksson, Minister for International Development Cooperation, at World Water Week

Published

Stockholm, 26 August 2019.
Check against delivery.

Excellences, Ministers, distinguished guests;
There are more and more of us on the planet. Soon we will be 10 billion people. To make room for us and our way of living we are gradually pushing out other species, not only some but most of all existing species, and whole ecosystems. Anthropocene is the new epoch of earth history, where the human race has a global impact. We use more space, but also more natural resources. This of course increases the demands for how we economize. We have reached the point where we no longer can pollute and destroy fundamental assets as water, air and arable soil, without hurting ourselves severely.

The epoch of the human race gives us a special responsibility. Power goes with responsibility. We humans today possess such an enormous destructive force that we can extinguish the basis for our own children to live a decent life.

On the other hand, we also possess knowledge, know-how and possibilities of how to change our societies and our way of living in a way that could make the future something to long for, both for the children of today and of tomorrow. We have the knowledge but are we capable of using it? Water is a good example. We know how to take care of the most fundamental resource for life on earth. Environmental activists, scientists, human rights defenders, youth, forward-looking companies and brave politicians have worked for generations attending to water basins, the seas and to the environment.

But most of us living on the planet to day ignores these fundamental know-hows. We don’t use water wisely and we don’t use water for the good of everyone. We must realize that we, each and every one of us, have that special responsibility. But even more, this is something that is up to us decision makers, in politics, business and bureaucracies. It is time to step up. Urgently. We must act more resolute than ever before. Getting water governance and investment in water security right are absolutely essential for the development of our societies and for the planet.

Today, those in power around the world give priority to the wrong things. It is our fundamental needs that should come first.
Our treatment of water and air is but one aspect of how we look at ourselves and our cohabitants on this planet. We are and should be the responsible ones. Nobody else but we. We are the only ones who can and have this opportunity, this enormous burden, or, if you so wish, this beautiful task worth living for.

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Friends,
When we now are entering the 2020:s, an increasing water demand, generally caused by urbanisation, industrialisation, population growth, expansion of irrigated agriculture and increasing living standards, have increased the competition for scarce water resources in many parts of the world.

Wastewater pollute seas and water basins, profoundly affecting the quality and amount of water available.

And adding to that picture; the effects of climate change have resulted in more flood and drought disaster events than ever before. Sea level rise and coastal degradation, extreme weather events and weather-related disasters affect both water and food security.

The risk for increased conflicts is fueled on as many societies don’t have the resources or the governance structure to deal with them.
Radical rethinking is needed.

Securing access to water for all people should be one of the major political and environmental challenges for the world leaders of today.
The stakes are far too high for us to gamble with water!

Ecosystems and their services are in continuous decline: The world has lost around 70 per cent of its natural wetlands over the last century, with profound impacts on economic development and social and environmental stability. If the natural environment continues to be degraded, and unsustainable pressures put on global water resources - about 45 per cent of the global gross domestic product, 52 per cent of the world’s population and 40 per cent of global grain production will be put at risk by 2050, according to the UN report on goal 6.
Poor and marginalized populations will be disproportionately affected, which will further worsen the rising inequalities.
It is becoming increasingly clear that many water governance systems, including the legislation, rules, guidance and incentives, as well as the institutions and individuals that implement them, are poorly adapted to current and coming realities.

The world needs better water governance with a focus on who gets what water when and how. During the UN Climate Summit in September things need to step up. I want to see that the world leaders agree to:

• Cut emissions! Emissions of nutrients from agriculture and wastewater must be reduced by simply building wastewater systems and treatment plants.

• Forestry practices has to be changed to reduce the amounts of sediments that reach coastal waters after logging.

• Restore and protect habitats such a coral reefs and blue carbon habitats.

• Regulate and limit coastal fisheries!

• Policies and investments in water infrastructure must be targeted to manage risks of excess, scarcity or pollution.

• Funding for building resilience needs to reach and strengthen local level structures where the impacts of disaster are most felt.

• Include women in decision making! Women have accumulated knowledge about water resources, including location, quality, natural cyclical variability and storage methods. They have insights regarding hygiene and sanitation practices. Information that is vital for policies and programming.

• Most importantly, if we want to stop the climate disaster, and be able to find long term sustainable solutions – we must agree to put an end of the use of fossil fuels.

To succeed, we also must over throw short term populistic and dangerous politics as well as impunity.

The 2030 Agenda with its three dimensions - economic, social and environmental – is the roadmap for sustainable development. The 17 sustainable development goals are integrated and indivisible. The success in one goal depends on the success in all the others. Carefully designed and implemented, measures with an integrated approach can contribute to the achievements of the Paris Agreement as well as many of the other SDG:s.

We need to strengthen education and empower women, support young people and activists, indigenous peoples and local communities. We need a strong and brave civil society.

And we need to create an enabling environment that contributes to inclusive and informed decision making and planning.

To state the obvious, the key for progress and good water governance lies in how we tackle democracy, human rights and climate change. You can not solve one problem without caring for the others.

Friends,
I have a wish. It is that future generations will be able to look at the years of 2019 -2020 as the turning point for reasonable politics.
Through coherent policies, legal frameworks, dedicated financing, and strong institutions and partnership, we have can get there. Together.
Thank you, Stockholm International Water Institute for your tireless efforts in continuing to organize this event and champion the cause of water security. It has been a great pleasure for me to be here today celebrating water - as the fundament for all aspects of life – at the Stockholm Water Week.
Thank you.