Blog: WWF8 – A Nature Based Forum?

By Raphael Glémet - Was my second WWF an easy downstream cruise or an arduous upstream paddle? I attended the 8th World Water Forum, in the unique city of Brasilia and, as last time, I felt overwhelmed by the number of participants and the big machine that it was.

Harvesting Rice

RG Photo: RG
The World Water Forum makes a lot of sense and should be an easy downstream paddle for people working in water. Not that easy actually. For us, coming from an ecosystem based background, it’s the opportunity to interact daily with other stakeholders of the so called “water world”: private sector, developers, governments, global banks. There is not one water talk, there are plenty, merging, meandering, sometimes diverging and it is the time for IUCN’s delegation to be even more strategic, convincing and adamant.

The mission is simple in theory: delivering key messages, new narratives, triggering transformation on how water-related ecosystems are considered in development, finding the balance between adapting to a different audience and not being too technical,   providing robust data, evidence and demonstration. Quite a challenge in practice! This event  is not only about conservation but it is the opportunity to promote Nature Based solutions , not as an addendum to development strategies but as a core pillar and a driving force for the way we will use water.

This year, the momentum is on our side, even more than before thanks to the release of the 2018 edition of the World Water Development Report, on Nature Based solutions for Water ! It seeks to “inform policy and decision-makers, inside and outside the water community, about the potential of nature-based solutions (NBS) to address contemporary water management challenges across all sectors”… Sounds quite familiar! The SDGs are also another layer strengthening our toolbox as we walked the stages, with of course SDG 6 and its various targets which looks at things that well, IUCN has been saying it for quite a while let’s say!

My schedule was heavy and thrilling. It started with a UNESCO led session on “Mobilizing science for the SDGs through enhanced freshwater ecosystem management in Asia and the Pacific”, the “sharing” theme was in the spotlight and the discussion highlighted the necessity to integrate science with policy and build bridges using existing institutional frameworks and conventions (Ramsar, UNWC, and other Basin organizations). During the session “Climate change, disasters and water related adaptation in the Asia Pacific Region” led by ICIMOD emphasis was put on interaction, highlighting the importance of  Ecosystem Based Adaption as an integrated process that links traditional biodiversity and ecosystem conservation approaches with sustainable socioeconomic development in order to help people adapt to shocks and risks.

Cooperation was also the focus of the FAO led session on tackling the Nexus in the Asia Pacific Region. The debate highlighted the need to use the Nexus as a demonstration approach on cooperation, able to trigger mutual benefits and joint planning. It also explained how IUCN links this to a more hydro-diplomacy stream of work insisting on the necessity to look at the Nexus as water energy food…and ecosystems! It’s clear that Nexus fits well within the governance work and that the integrated approach taken by IUCN, from a scientific point of view and as a trigger for diplomacy and concrete cooperation was well received.

“The Forest-Water Nexus: redefining the narrative to build a sustainable future” session led by UN FAO; IUCN; SIWI Swedish Water House emphasized the opportunities provided by the “water world” to work on forest through  existing River Basin Organizations, the basin units and basin development plans. During the discussion the necessity to extend the mandate of River Basin Organizations to work on forest landscape restoration and management clearly emerged.

I had the impression that in the context of increasing political commitment and funding, that it is essential to clarify the understanding among policy makers and practitioners on what qualifies as Nature Based Solutions. Terms such as Ecosystem Based Adaptation, Nature Based Solutions, and Green infrastructures indeed, are often misinterpreted!

Interest in this topic is growing so fast that global and regional banks seem to become more open to the idea of funding Nature Based Solution approaches but are limited by the lack of requests from countries. In this context IUCN was cited by ADB as a key player able to trigger the need of NBS at country level resulting in funding request to the banks. On the other hand it seems that NBS are not yet well integrated in the current strategies of big donors and there is often a confusion between “soft measures” (i.e. weather forecast, flood forecast) and Nature Based Solution/Ecosystem Based Adaptation.

After the forum, some of us ended up  going straight to the Mekong River Commission summit in Cambodia. The discussions there mirrored perfectly the WWF ones, but at the scale of a basin this time, and here again Nature based solutions, Nexus and EbA resonated strongly for the Mekong. Change is coming, for the better!

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Raphael Glémet is IUCN Senior Programme Officer, Water and Wetlands, Asia - Natural Resources Group; he can be reached via email at [email protected]

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