Story | 30 Jan, 2019

WCEL joins the OECD Water Governance Initiative

By Stefano Burchi & Owen McIntyre - WCEL has accepted an invitation to join the OECD Water Governance Initiative (WGI) as a new member and partner.


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Photo: Water Governance Institute

In joining the Water Governance Initiative (WGI), WCEL joins an international multi-stakeholder network, made up of key organisations from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. WGI membership ranges from UNESCO-IHP to the Global Water Partnership, from Veolia and Suez to the Stockholm International Water Institute, and from the International Water Resources Association and International Water Association to the International Association for Water Law, to mention. WGI has met twice a year since its inception in 2013 to share good practices in support of better governance in the water sector. WCEL Chair Justice Antonio Benjamin stressed the importance of this partnership: “Water is one of the most pressing and complex issues of the environmental law agenda. It is now – as it should be – at the center stage of the WCEL global agenda. Therefore, joining forces with the OECD reflects this commitment of the WCEL leadership and comes as a natural and necessary step”.

The chief WGI output to-date are the influential Principles on Water Governance. These twelve Principles are intended to support effective, efficient and inclusive water policies and seek to improve the “water governance cycle”, from policy design to implementation. They have been formally adopted in June 2015 by the 35 OECD Member States. In December 2016, the OECD Principles on Water Governance were included, verbatim, in a broader OECD Council Recommendation on Water, which also covers issues of water quantity, water quality, water risks and disasters, and sustainable finance, investment and pricing.

The Principles are relevant for all levels of government. They apply to the overarching water policy cycle and should be implemented in a systemic and inclusive manner. As such, they apply across (1) water management functions (e.g., drinking water supply, sanitation, flood protection, water quality, water quantity, rainwater and stormwater); (2) water uses (e.g., domestic, industry, agriculture, energy and environment); and (3) ownership of water management, resources and assets (e.g., public, private, or mixed).

Since their adoption at the ministerial level by the OECD Member States, seven non-OECD countries (Brazil, China, Colombia, Morocco, Peru, Romania and South Africa) and more than 150 other actors have committed to mainstreaming the Principles across their policies and activities through endorsing them formally and joining the Global Coalition for Good Water Governance, set up in 2016. The Coalition aims to trigger collective action and guide public action from policy makers, business, and society at large through the identification, collection and upscaling of innovative solutions.

Subsequent to the adoption of the Principles, the OECD has engaged in developing an implementation strategy based on the bottom-up and multi-stakeholder development of an indicator framework and the collection of water governance stories addressing some or all of the Principles. The indicators are conceived as a self-assessment framework permitting governments and stakeholders to carry out a dialogue on their water governance systems at a given moment, to track progress over time, and to map the concrete actions needed to bridge identified gaps. In particular, the indicators seek to build consensus across a range of public authorities and stakeholders on the strengths and weaknesses of water governance systems and the most appropriate ways forward. Simultaneously, 60-plus water governance stories illustrating implementation of the OECD Principles have been collected at local, basin, national and global levels to showcase concrete experiences, lessons learned from successes, and pitfalls to be avoided. Both indicators (to be published in a dedicated OECD report) and stories (to be featured in a dedicated database) are expected to encourage and facilitate the uptake of the OECD Principles on Water Governance at different levels of governance.

Regarding WCEL’s new membership in WGI, Dr Håkan Tropp, Head of the OECD Water Governance Programme, stated: “I am delighted to have the WCEL joining as a new member to the OECD Water Governance Initiative (WGI). The participation by WCEL is particularly welcome since it goes beyond water issues and uniquely integrates environmental law with an international network of policy experts. I very much look forward to collaborating closely with WCEL and by joining hands I believe that we will be able to co-support the implementation of the  Brasília Multi-stakeholder Pledge to Implement the OECD Principles on Water Governance and Brasília Declaration of Judges on Water Justice, both adopted at the 8th World Water Forum, Brasília (Brazil) in March 2018.”

By choosing to participate in the OECD WGI, WCEL has signified its commitment to effective water-sector governance, from conception to implementation of the water resources/water services policy cycle, most notably by means of legal, policy and regulatory reform regarding water resources and services. It is this specific aspect of the governance-policy continuum addressed by WGI that is of direct relevance to the WCEL Specialist Group on Water & Wetlands. In particular, the Specialist Group will be in a unique position to contribute to, and benefit from, the wealth of authoritative knowledge, information and practice accumulated by WGI through its work. Moreover, through its members who hold influential positions in their own institutional settings, the Specialist Group will seek to play a pro-active role in (a) promoting the OECD Water Governance Principles, and (b) fostering the goals of the Global Coalition for Good Water Governance.


Stefano Burchi       Photo: Stefano Burchi
Stefano Burchi 
Chair of WCEL Water and Wetlands Specialist Group 





Owen McIntyrePhoto: Owen McIntyre
Owen McIntyre
Chair Emeritus of WCEL Water and Wetlands Specialist Group