The United Nations Watercourses Convention, the first global framework on fresh water and the world’s only global framework for transboundary cooperation endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations, has officially entered into force.
Throughout decades of drafts and revisions, international organizations—particularly those focused on conservation—raised awareness, increased understanding and encouraged adoption of the UN Watercourses Convention. In May 2014, Vietnam became the 35th country to ratify, bringing the Convention into force, and several other countries are on the verge of acceding.
The Convention comes at a crucial time, with climate change influencing water quality and quantity, and both people and nature experiencing more volatile periods of floods and drought.
Growing populations and incomes are changing how people live, increasing and diversifying the demands placed on freshwater. Developing countries especially are using their waters in new ways, particularly for industry and energy.
But what one country does with its water impacts all others who share the same freshwater system. Currently, there are 276 transboundary freshwater lake and river basins worldwide, but only 40% are governed by agreements. Where agreements exist, 80% involve only two countries, even though other states may also be part of the watercourse in question. The Convention will standardize one set of criteria for which all countries with international river basins and transboundary waters abide, ensuring more practical management globally.
These criteria include defining the subjects that countries should discuss on their shared waters, facilitating the process of transboundary cooperation and holding governments accountable to their own countries and regions.
WWF has been working with countries and partners around the world to raise awareness of the UNWC and sow the seeds of cooperation – work that has been supported for many years by HSBC.
“We have found that we cannot achieve the same level of conservation goals in regions where countries are not cooperating on transboundary water management,” said Lifeng Li, Director of WWF’s global freshwater program. “Nature and wildlife do not respect national borders, and some of the most crucial areas for biodiversity are linked to international rivers and lakes. The UN Watercourses Convention will play an important role in creating a world in which people live in harmony with nature.”
With a growing population and a resurgence in large-scale hydropower projects, the need for comprehensive and effective arrangements for the equitable and sustainable management of transboundary waters is more vital than ever.