What's In Blue

Posted Mon 5 Jun 2017

Briefing on Preventive Diplomacy and Transboundary Waters

Tomorrow (6 June), the Security Council will hold a high-level briefing on “Preventive Diplomacy and Transboundary Waters.” Bolivian President Evo Morales will chair the meeting and Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to brief. At press time, it appeared that at least three other Council members would be represented at ministerial level. No formal outcome is expected from the meeting.

The Secretary-General is expected to outline the importance of preventive diplomacy in responding to disputes surrounding transboundary waters. He will most likely emphasise that shared water resources can serve as a platform for cooperation, a source of growth and mutual interdependence.

In preparation for the meeting, Bolivia has circulated a concept note which asserts that “when seen through the lens of preventive diplomacy, the discussion of fostering cooperation in transboundary waters as a means to avert conflict could benefit substantially from an on-going exchange of points of view within the Security Council.” It suggests that the briefing could provide the Council with an opportunity to explore how to prevent conflict and foster cooperation with regard to transboundary water issues, and how preventive diplomacy can lay the groundwork for developing sustainable water management networks in order to minimise the potential for water-related conflict caused by the geopolitics of water and climate change.

There is a considerable international legal and normative foundation with regard to transboundary waters. As of 1 March 2016 all UN member states could join the Economic Commission for Europe Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, which was initially negotiated as a regional instrument seeking to promote cooperation on the management of transboundary water systems. The 1997 UN Convention on Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses calls on states to use international watercourses in their territories in “an equitable and reasonable manner” while taking “all appropriate measures to prevent the causing of significant harm to other watercourse States” (A/RES/51/229). The importance of both of these instruments was highlighted by France and Ukraine during the open debate on 22 November 2016 on “Water, Peace and Security” (S/PV.7818), and it is possible that some members may refer to them in their interventions tomorrow.

When the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in 2015, it included water security as one of the agenda’s core goals. In particular, goal 6 calls for sustainable water management, including by “implement[ing] integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate” (A/RES/70/1). The elements of goal 6 may feature in some of the statements tomorrow as well.

Building on this foundation, the Security Council has recently begun to focus on water management issues as relevant to international peace and security. One example is last November’s open debate which was initiated by Senegal. Although Senegal hosted an Arria-formula meeting on 22 April 2016 on this issue, the November 2016 debate marked the first time the connection between water and security was addressed in a formal meeting of the Council. The linkage between water and security was further highlighted during the Council’s visit to the Lake Chad Basin region in early March. During the Niger leg of the visit, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou said that he did not believe Boko Haram would ever have “taken root” without the shrinking of Lake Chad, which borders on Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, and which has lost 90 percent of its surface area since the 1960s. His remarks were similar to those made by then-US Ambassador to ECOSOC, Isobel Coleman, who stated in the Council chamber during last November’s debate on “Water, Peace and Security” that “Boko Haram uses the dying lake as a recruiting base, easily exploiting the tens of thousands of displaced people who are searching for a means of livelihood”. Following the visit, the Council adopted resolution 2349 (31 March 2017), which recognised “the adverse effects of climate change and ecological changes among other factors on the stability of the Region, including through water scarcity, drought, desertification, land degradation, and food insecurity”. It is likely that some Council members may cite the Lake Chad Basin example in their statements tomorrow.

France, Kazakhstan and Senegal are among 15 co-convening states of the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace. The panel, which was launched in Geneva in November 2015 and which is chaired by former Slovenian President Danilo Türk, seeks to develop proposals to strengthen the global architecture to prevent and resolve water-related conflicts and to facilitate the role of water management as a factor in building peace. It is expected to complete a final report by September, proposing concrete measures for the prevention and resolution of conflicts related to water.

It seems that most Council members recognise the security implications of water-related issues and do not oppose the Council discussing these matters. For example, Japan has said that “improving water access, developing water management and governance capabilities and establishing international rules for water usage will help stabilize societies and de-escalate underlying tensions between states,” while Senegal has maintained that the Council should focus on this issue “to prevent the occurrence or the exacerbation of tensions between States sharing water resources, in particular, cross-border water resources” (S/PV.7818). Russia is perhaps the most sceptical member of the Council regarding the relevance of water-related issues to the Council’s work. In last November’s debate, it stated that it is “concerned by the ongoing attempts to directly incorporate a security component into issues relating to water resources”, maintaining that this was a sustainable development issue and recognising the efforts of UN entities in addressing water-related matters.

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