Category Archives: United Nations

From the DNC: A Call for Climate Action

RNC_DMC

Photos: Wikimedia Commons

Environmentalists are heartened to hear prominent Democrats — Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), among others — calling for urgent climate action at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) taking place in Philadelphia. California Gov. Jerry Brown devoted his whole speech to tearing down climate denial. That’s a stark contrast with the recent Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, where the subject was largely ignored. After all, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Brown’s main target, has called climate change a “hoax,” conjuring a picture of thousands of climate scientists all over the world having quite a laugh.

The party platform documents make the contrast more clear. “Climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time,” the Democrats say, pledging an array of actions in support of the The Paris Agreement, moving to clean energy sources and creating jobs in the process. The Republicans reject the agendas of the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, demand a halt to U.S. funding of the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and vow to defeat President Barak Obama in his “war on coal” through the Clean Power Plan.

Key points summarized in the Dems’ platform:

Democrats share a deep commitment to tackling the climate challenge; creating millions of good-paying middle class jobs; reducing greenhouse gas emissions more than 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050; and meeting the pledge President Obama put forward in the landmark Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperature increases to “well below” two degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We believe America must be running entirely on clean energy by mid-century. We will take bold steps to slash carbon pollution and protect clean air at home, lead the fight against climate change around the world, ensure no Americans are left out or left behind as we accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy, and be responsible stewards of our natural resources and our public lands and waters. Democrats reject the notion that we have to choose between protecting our planet and creating good-paying jobs. We can and we will do both.

Read more:

2016 Democratic Party Platform (pages 27-29)

2016 Republican Party Platform (pages 20-22)

Democrats call for immediate action on climate change – Engadget

How the Democratic and Republican party platforms stack up on climate change, Iran and more key issuesLos Angeles Times

Party platforms clash on climate change – courier-journal

Finally, the climate teardown of Trump you’ve been waiting for – Grist

Related posts:

Dubious: The Donald’s Claims About the Calif. Drought

World Water Day: UN World Water Development Report Warns of Global Crisis by 2030

Study: Freshwater Shortage Will Double Climate Change’s Impact on Agriculture

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Filed under Climate Change, North America, Politics, United Nations

Finally Distinguished: The Human Right to Sanitation

As recognized by international law, the human right to an adequate standard of living contains quite a few components, each noted as distinct human rights. You have the rights to be healthy, obtain food and find shelter, for example. You also have the right to access clean drinking water and adequate sanitation, which are related to the human rights above, among others.

Since the UN adopted “the human right to water and sanitation” in 2010, the two things have been conflated as one right in various texts and references. For years, however, experts have been noting that the two, while obviously related, are separate and complex in their own rights, so to speak, and should be referred to as such.

Now, for the first time, the United Nations has clarified that the human rights to water and sanitation are two separate rights, each with their own characteristics.

Why is this an important distinction? As countries strive to meet obligations established in the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals, their understanding of what it will take to improve sanitation and end open defecation will be crucial. So it’s important to emphasize sanitation, which doesn’t always involve water.

Read more:

UN recognises right to sanitation as a distinct human right – firstpost.com

Dispatches: UN resolution enshrines rights to clean drinking water, sanitation – Human Rights Watch

United Nations General Assembly affirms that water and sanitation are distinct rights and confirms a strong definition of these rights – Joint press release from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and WASH United

Related posts:

17 Sustainable Development Goals Adopted at the United Nations

World Water Day: UN World Water Development Report Warns of Global Crisis by 2030

If You Could Advise the UN on Water, What Would You Say?

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

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Filed under Human Right(s) to Water and Sanitation, Human rights, Law, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), United Nations, Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Why You Should Give a Crap About World Toilet Day

Image: toiletday.com

Image: toiletday.com

Nov. 19, 2015, marks “World Toilet Day,” which may sound like some sort of a punchline to people who have lived their lives with easy access to modern sanitation, taking it for granted. But in the world at large, one in three people — about 2.4 billion spread throughout many countries — lacks a toilet or latrine. The resulting “open defecation” compromises human health, dignity and security, the environment, and social and economic development, the United Nations says.

To state a few related examples, poor or absent sanitation spreads diarrhoeal diseases, a leading cause of death in children. It keeps large numbers of girls out of school, depriving them of an education. It also makes women and girls vulnerable to attack as they go outside to “go to the bathroom” (where there is no such room, and very little privacy).

“We have a moral imperative to end open defecation and a duty to ensure women and girls are not at risk of assault and rape simply because they lack a sanitation facility,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for World Toilet Day, which focuses this year on the theme of “Equality, Dignity and the Link Between Gender-Based Violence and Sanitation.”

After the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council affirmed the human right to water and sanitation in 2010, people first questioned whether they should be called out separately or remain embedded in other human rights in which they play a role, such as the rights to a healthy environment and an adequate standard of living. Interested parties continue to discuss whether water and sanitation should be one right or two. They’re clearly related in many ways, but each sometimes requires — and deserves — separate consideration. How to do this, especially in the context of the new Sustainable Development Goals adopted at the UN in September, is an ongoing question. Goal 6 currently keeps the two together.

While the human right to water has become a hot-button issue due to increased alarm over scarcity and threats of conflict, sanitation has grabbed fewer headlines and may be relegated to the status of a “poor cousin,” to borrow a phrase from Inga T. Winkler, a scholar in residence at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law. I was fortunate enough recently to attend a forum where she discussed her  forthcoming academic paper outlining the evolution of the human right to water and sanitation, as well as the case for separation. Winkler is a prominent scholar in the human right to water and sanitation, having authored a seminal book on the subject and served as a legal advisor to the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque.

Open defecation and other problems of poor sanitation aren’t easy to talk about, but overcoming taboos through open discussion is crucial to making practical changes that save lives and help realize the human right to sanitation worldwide.

Image: toiletday.com

Image: toiletday.com

Read more:

Seven Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the State of the World’s Toilets – WaterAid UK

World Toilet Day: More Important Than It Sounds – Huffington Post United Kingdom

Much Ado About the Loo, on World Toilet Day  – New Straits Times Online

#WECANTWAIT campaign  – UN-Water

World Toilet Day – UN.org

WorldToilet.org  and UN World Toilet Day on Twitter: @worldtoiletday

Related posts: 

17 Sustainable Development Goals Adopted at the United Nations

World Water Day: UN World Water Development Report Warns of Global Crisis by 2030

If You Could Advise the UN on Water, What Would You Say?

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Human Right(s) to Water and Sanitation, Human rights, United Nations, Wastewater Treatment, Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Understanding Water Crises: New Resources Added

 

The At the Waterline blog’s Water Resources page has been updated with 12 new additions in the past few weeks, for a total of 83 links to sources of information and action on issues related to freshwater scarcity.

Check out the new additions:

aquaNOW.info: the World’s Water Data Engine

The CEO Water Mandate

Ceres: Mobilising Business Leadership or a Sustainable World (Issues: Water Issues)

>>> Ceres: Feeding Ourselves Thirsty: How the Food Sector Is Managing Global Water Risks (full report)

FAN: Freshwater Action Network

The Guardian: Access to clean water and sanitation around the world – mapped

LLoyd’s 360 Risk Insight: Global Water Scarcity, Risks and Challenges for Business

Water Defense

The Solutions Project (U.S. state plans for 100% clean, renewable energy)

WaterLex: Publications*

World Health Organisation (WHO): Health Topics: Water

WHO Programmes: Water Sanitation Health

(*Note: The international public-interest development organization WaterLex employs me as its head of communications. )

 

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Filed under Blog Changes and Updates, Climate Change, Conservation, Human rights, Law, NGOs, Research, Science, Sustainability, Technology, United Nations, Water Resources

War Is Hell, Part 941: The Environment

burning oil fields

In case you missed it, the United Nations’ (UN) International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict was Thursday, Nov. 6. Its point is to educate people about the damaging effects of armed conflict on the environment. Natural resources are often military targets — poisoned wells, torched crops and oil reserves, tainted soil —  and often remain ruined long after the battle is over, compromising ecosystems. The UN General Assembly first declared the day on Nov. 5, 2001, and it has remained not-exactly-famous ever since.

“We must use all of the tools at our disposal, from dialogue and mediation to preventive diplomacy, to keep the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources from fueling and financing armed conflict and destabilizing the fragile foundations of peace,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. So true.

Read more:

International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict – timeanddate.com

Event Page – United Nations

What’s the Environmental Impact of Modern War? – The Guardian

 

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Filed under Conflicts, Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, Industry, United Nations, Water Resources

Set Heading for World Water Week in Stockholm

4951481766_c8dced02ba_z

In a couple of days I’ll join colleagues from WaterLex at one of the most prominent events in the world of water-related agencies, NGOs, services, and the like — World Water Week in Stockholm, which runs Aug. 31 – Sept. 5 in the Swedish capital, under the auspices of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). The theme this year, for this and other events around the world, is “energy and water,” two vital forces that are always interconnected.

WaterLex will exhibit in a booth shared with other organizations in the Swiss Water Partnership, and we’ll also put on a lunchtime side event on Monday, Sept. 1: Water & Energy Nexus: Smart Investments to Help Realize Human Rights. Co-convened with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the event’s panel discussion will explore how wastewater reuse for energy production can serve populations’ rights to adequate sanitation and a safe and healthy environment, while also making for a valuable investment in sustainability. Check out the speakers and topics. I’ll be the guy “moderating” (more like trying to keep up) or running around with a camera, taking photos for the press materials.

It will be my first time in Stockholm, so I hope to get around town a bit. A colleague recommended the Vasa Museum, the only preserved 17th century ship in the world. It heeled over and sank only minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628, and was raised in 1961. And of course there’s a museum dedicated to Abba.

Related posts:

WaterLex: A New Role for Me, Working on Water Law and Human Rights

If You Could Advise the UN on Water, What Would You Say?

WaterLex Helps Put the Human Right to Water Into New Legal Frameworks

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

 

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Filed under Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, Law, NGOs, Rivers and Watersheds, Sustainability, Technology, United Nations, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources

WaterLex: A New Role for Me, Working on Water Law and Human Rights

Image: WaterLex

Image: WaterLex

Realizing that access to clean water and adequate sanitation should be a human right helped inform my decision to take on the role of head of communication for a Geneva, Switzerland-based international NGO I’ve written about in the past, WaterLex.* This blog will remain independent from the organization, but there are times when the goals of each will overlap, given the story in question, and especially pertaining to what “the human right to water” actually means.

Here’s one theoretical example of a situation, among many, where WaterLex might step in and I might be moved to write about it here: A country insists it complies with the 2010 Human Right to Water and Sanitation because some of its citizens have a source for clean water within 200 meters of their homes. In discussions, it becomes clear that those citizens are in urban and suburban areas, not rural ones. In rural areas, where most poor residents are concentrated, houses are more separated by space and geographical structures, such as hills and valleys. Given that reality, the country’s regulators assume a policy of allowing more than 1,000 meters between homes and a freshwater source is adequate. However, that assumption violates protocols governing  the human right to water and sanitation.

The mission of WaterLex is to make the human right to water and sanitation central to countries’ law and policy frameworks, by educating lawmakers and pursuing other measures. Ultimately, the mission works toward alleviating situations of chronic water stress for future generations.  You’ll see more about that on these pages as well as those at waterlex.org and other sources.

Read More:

 WaterLex website

Related Posts:

 WaterLex Helps Put the Human Right to Water Into New Legal Frameworks

If You Could Advise the UN on Water, What Would You Say?

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

 *(Please note: Every mention of WaterLex will carry a note of affiliation. e.g., the author is head of communication for WaterLex.)

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Europe, Human rights, Law, NGOs, United Nations, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

Image: GWP.org

Image: GWP.org

I attended the recent briefing, “Targeting water in the post-2015 development agenda,” at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Co-organized by UN-Water, the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation, the event hosted international mission staff as well as members of the press, academics and others. It focused on how water issues are being addressed within the evolving debate on potential sustainable-development goals (aka SDGs), in the framework of the post-2015 development agenda. The briefing’s documents and presentations are now available online.

The idea that water should have its own complex SDG, rather than being dispersed among other goals, seemed to be widely held and agreed upon at the event. Incorporating water issues into other goals without having a separate item for it could result in water-related issues evaporating in the mix.

“Because water is  everywhere, water ends up being nowhere,” said panelist Jack Moss, senior water advisor at AquaFed: The International Federation of Private Water Operators. Water’s fearsome power in nature is not reflected in its (lack of) strength as a factor in economies, he added.

Panelists agreed that water is too often taken for granted, and not often-enough planned for in proactive and constructive ways. In other words, you consider it separately to help ensure it gets paid for.

“Any time an issue is cross-cutting, like water, you can be sure that some of your targets will be lost in other targets,” said Lesha Witmer, a steering committee member and co-coordinator of The Butterfly Effect coalition of NGOs. “If you have a dedicated goal, it can’t *not* be represented in a country’s national budget.”

The UN-Water paper “A Post-2015 Global Goal for Water: Synthesis of key findings and recommendations from UN-Water” was also presented during the event. In the 41-page report, you can see the goal taking shape. The goal, “securing sustainable water for all,” becomes mightily complex when put in the context of the world, its growing human population, economic development, pollution, climate change, public health and myriad other factors.

The Swiss government has taken a leading role on water issues, and its Swiss Position Paper on Water in the Post-2015 Agenda advocating for an explicit water goal was also presented at the briefing.

See documents and presentations from the briefing.

Related posts:

At the Point of ‘Peak Water,’ Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

UNICEF Says Put Down Your Cell Phone for a Few Minutes to Help Kids Get Water

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

Unchecked Emissions Will Drain Water Resources, Warns Leaked UN Report

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

 

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Climate Change, Conservation, Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, Middle East, NGOs, North America, Oceania, Research, South America, Sustainability, United Nations, Water Resources

Happy World Water Day 2014: Be an Advocate

Image: UN Water

Image: UN Water

World Water Day (WWD) falls annually on March 22. However, because that date is a Saturday this year, many activities will take place on Friday, March 21. This year’s theme is “water and energy.” The oft-repeated phrasse “water-energy nexus” refers to the numerous interdependencies between water and energy; the two are inextricably linked and heavily influenced by climate change.

UN-Water, the United Nations’ inter-agency coordinating mechanism for all matters related to water and sanitation, has prepared a vast array of educational materials for WWD, including an in-depth advocacy guide with myriad tips on how to share key facts and messages. The day’s main celebrations are being held in Tokyo, Japan. Among the festivities, the World Water Development Report 2014 on Water and Energy will be launched, and the UN-Water “Water for Life” Best Practices Award will be given.

Overarching messages:

  • Water requires energy and energy requires water.
  • Supplies are limited and demand is increasing.
  • Saving energy is saving water; saving water is saving energy.
  • The “bottom billion” urgently need access to both water and sanitation services, and electricity.
  • Improving water and energy efficiency in all sectors is imperative, as are coordinated, coherent and concerted policies.

Read more:

UPDATE: Officially launched: World Water Development Report 2014 on Water and Energy

UPDATE: 2014 UN-Water ‘Water for Life’ Best Practices Award goes to India and Singapore

World Water Day 2014 website

World Water Day 2014 Documents and Information Sources

UN-Water homepage

Related posts:

At the Point of ‘Peak Water,’ Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

UNICEF Says Put Down Your Cell Phone for a Few Minutes to Help Kids Get Water

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

Unchecked Emissions Will Drain Water Resources, Warns Leaked UN Report

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

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Filed under Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Caribbean, Climate Change, Conservation, Europe, Events, Human rights, Industry, Middle East, NGOs, North America, Oceania, Research, South America, Sustainability, United Nations, Water Resources, Water Shortage

At the Point of ‘Peak Water,’ Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

Watercyclesummary

The world has a finite supply of accessible freshwater. By some estimates, less than 1% of the naturally occurring freshwater on earth is accessible to humans; the rest is locked up in ice or too deep and dispersed in the ground for us to get. The phrase “peak water” refers to the point at which we’re consuming available freshwater faster than it can be replenished by nature through the hydrologic water cycle to the usual sources, such as lakes, rivers, and shallow underground aquifers, many of which are already dangerously depleted.

Whether we’re nearing the point of peak water, already there, or well past it is a question under ongoing discussion. One point of confusion is that water volume and use vary widely by region. Some areas are nearing or past peak water, others aren’t. Another factor is that climate change is throwing the status quo of water abundance or scarcity by region into flux. Look at the 2013 research showing that heavy pollution from the U.S. and Europe from the 1960s into the 1980s effectively changed weather patterns, becoming a primary cause of Africa’s long, widespread, and deadly Sahel Drought. What will happen because of today’s pollution from the world’s most prolific sources? (e.g., China).

And those who don’t see water and climate change as parts of the same series of problems should note: “The hydrologic cycle is the climate cycle,” says hydro-climatologist Dr. Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, in a video interview that lays out overlapping problems. Water, climate change, and energy production are all inextricably linked. In fact, links between water and energy make up the theme of this year’s World Water Day, coming up on March 22.

It’s worth noting that water scarcity is a crucial element of the resource crises cited in the upcoming NASA-funded study predicting a “perfect storm” within a few decades that could end global civilization. The study looked closely at the fall of previous complex societies, such as the Mayans and Romans, and found parallels with our unsustainable overuse of resources — particularly the massively unequal use by wealthy versus poor.

However close to “peak” we may be, no sustained sense of urgency over water scarcity is apparent in mainstream media. In part this is because water supplies are local or regional, not global, and in part it’s because these problems take a long time — and a much longer attention span than a 24-hour news cycle has — to address. So you see localized articles about regional droughts and potential conflicts over resources, though rarely anything that puts the worldwide water crisis in perspective and looks ahead to cross-cutting solutions (e.g., large-scale renewable-energy power production that requires much less water than nuclear or fossil-fuel-based power, combined with modern and far-reaching conservation measures addressing agricultural, industrial, and residential water use and re-use).

Compared to today’s world, our near-future planet will have double the human population, even more-severe climate change, and yet the same old freshwater, redistributed. Perhaps it’s too easy to push off the worry, as we think we’ll get serious about conservation before it’s too late. Or that governments and industry will join together to provide desalinated water wherever necessary — somehow without the troubling environmental costs of today’s practices — before vast human populations must migrate or die.  Or that those fresh and brackish aquifers recently discovered under the oceans will push the point-of-no-return a few decades further into the future. Well, someday, after the fights over the rights, maybe somebody will throw billions at drilling into those aquifers. Because someday they’ll have no choice. And then those reserves will be sucked dry, too.

You might say we have no choice other than to better manage our freshwater.

Read more:

UPDATE: CHARTS: How power generation threatens water supplies, and climate change threatens both – ClimateProgress

UPDATE: NASA-funded study: Industrial civilisation headed for “irreversible collapse”? Natural and social scientists develop new model of how “perfect storm” of crises could unravel global systemThe Guardian

Are we on the path to peak water? – Climate Central (with infographic)

Peak water is here – Daily Kos (links to video interview with Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute)

Peak water (background) – Wikipedia

Pollution in Northern Hemisphere helped cause 1980s African drought – Washington University

Related posts:

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

Serious Water Conservation Demands Layered Approach and Emotional Commitment

Over-Salted: The Trouble(s) With Desalination

Study: Freshwater Shortage Will Double Climate Change’s Impact on Agriculture

Unchecked Emissions Will Drain Water Resources, Warns Leaked U.N. Report

Study Describes Vast Reserves of Water Under Ocean Floors

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Filed under Africa, Agriculture, Climate Change, Conservation, Desalination, Drought, Europe, Groundwater, Industry, North America, Pollution, Research, Rivers and Watersheds, Sustainability, Technology, United Nations, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources, Water Shortage