Transboundary Water and Adaptation Workshop in Geneva

One of the advantages to doing research in Switzerland is the ease of access to interesting international meetings.  On February 20th and 21st, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Core Group on Pilot Projects for Transboundary Water Adaptation in Geneva.

This meeting was hosted by the UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe).  The UNECE serves as the Secretariat for the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (known as the Water Convention).  This little-known treaty began as a regional treaty addressing transboundary waters in Europe in 1992.  Interestingly, in 2003, it was amended to allow non-European parties to join the treaty.  This amendment just entered into force (February 6th 2013), making the treaty truly a global water treaty.

One of the programs of work under the Convention addresses climate change adaptation, and a number of transboundary pilot projects on adaptation are underway.  This meeting was the 4th meeting of the pilot projects to share progress, challenges and lessons learned on developing transboundary adaptation plans, and implementing transboundary adaptation measures.  It was also a very interesting meeting because it was the launch of the Global Network on Transboundary Water and Adaptation.

In addition to the well-established transboundary cooperation in such groups as the Rhine Commission (9 countries) and the Danube River Commission (14 countries), a number of basins in Eastern Europe and Southeastern Europe, as well as several African basins (including the Sahara and Sahel Aquifer, and the Congo Basin), the Mekong Basin in Asia, and the Upper Paraguay Basin in South America also attended.

Working in English, French and Russian, the workshop included presentations from each basin, as well as lots of time for small group discussion and problem-solving.  I was very fortunate to be invited to be an active participant in the small group workshops and planning exercises, where we worked though issues such as how to harmonize transboundary plans with national plans, how to prioritize among potential adaptation measures, and how to adapt monitoring systems to climate change.  A key challenge that was addressed was how to integrate data from different countries in a basin, particularly when the countries may have different levels of development, as well as how to develop adaptation plans in the face of data scarcity.

The workshop atmosphere was informal and cooperative, with delegates openly sharing challenges, lessons learned and insights from past experiences with other basins.   I personally gained great insight into the different types of adaptation planning challenges faced by different regions, particularly due to different institutional and capacity standpoints.  It was also fascinating to learn more about European adaptation planning, as this is not a region I have previously focused on, but which is clearly on the forefront of thinking about adaptation planning.  The work being done on water and adaptation under the Convention has the potential to be some of the most innovative work on adaptation planning being done globally, and it will be very interesting to see how this global network on transboundary water and adaptation evolves.

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