Global Agenda Councils: Water Security


Up until a couple of hundred years ago,
all of our settlement cities and towns and villages were based on where
can we get enough clean water? And we are coming back to a point where
that resource pressure becomes very real for us day to day. We are going to be increasing population
levels, but this is going to go on to increase it by two billion more
people in the next 30 years. If we continue at today’s pace of fresh
water usage, the gap between the supply of fresh water and the demand of fresh water
is projected to be as much as 40 percent. There are wars.
Darfur was largely a war about water and water rights. Another example which is huge
is that of the Arab Sea. The cotton industry in Central Asia was
significantly supported with fresh water. Fresh water was diverted from the rivers
that feed into the Arab Sea into the agricultural lands which grew cotton. And as a result, the Arab Sea has pretty
much dried up and the place is an ecological disaster. Let’s look back 1997.
The Yellow River, one of the major rivers of China, went dry for nine
months of the year. Finding mechanisms in which this opportunity,
the scarcity value of water, becomes reflected in the
decisions people make. This, for me, is the fundamental
challenge. Great.
And I see on my list that we have Andy Wales.
Andy, are you on the line? Sure. I mean I think the papers
have progressed well. I guess my…were developed as part of the
Water Resources Project that we’ve debated… We are beginning to discuss
this nexus right now. Yes, we need to talk about that
in our country, in our city. And our floor is open for any other kind
of thoughts or perspectives on… And this kind of food-water-energy nexus…
Usually, no one has got the time and the energy and the effort and
the money to do it. I think we are falling to a trap of talking
about what people are talking about. The Global Agenda Councils a really brain
trust of the world’s smartest thinkers and experts from around the world
from different regions, different stakeholder groups.
It’s different than any other event because it goes beyond just
meetings and preset panels. It really is about group conversations
around issues and solutions. The World Economic Forum is a rather
unique organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging
business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global,
regional, and industry agendas. Right now, we have 600 people represented
and they’ll convene in 72 different councils and have conversations
over three days essentially. So the issues range from food security to
climate change, systemic financial risk, population growth. The councils, they talk about thematic
issues, they talk about natural resource scarcity, and here, you have water as
one of the key elements in that. Water security is understanding how the
water resources in a particular catchment and a particular area underpin the
economic, the social, and the environmental well-being of that area. And the allocation of blue
water to farmers… Who are the players, what are the
major solutions, and how do we… It’s been particularly valuable that although
many of us from the corporate sector are relatively new to the water
debate that many people in the Global Agenda Council have been living the challenges
of water policy for 20 or 30 years. I’m here because I believe that the
World Economic Forum offers me and the water world a great opportunity to
advance the cause of water. The issues of geopolitics, the issues of
political stability, the social harmony all come from water.
I am here because I believe passionately in finding solutions to the
issues in the water sector. We have to remind people that the environment
matters, and in this arena, we would suggest it underpins the economy
that everybody is trying to wrestle with here.
And so you got people who can say, “Well, actually, we’ve tried this before
and this is why it didn’t work. So if you are going to try it again,
perhaps do this differently.” I mean I think I understand it.
I think it’s exactly right. So what we’ve done today is we’ve had the
first afternoon of the council meeting. We’ve had a good debate around
two things really. First of all is how is the progress on
water going in the different organizations that we work with.
What do governments think about it, what do businesses think about it, what the
NGOs like WWF think about it, and how can we work together more.
It’s an opportunity to have that conversation that you do
not otherwise have. Exactly. You couldn’t have had that.
There, exactly. I enjoy the debate we have here.
It’s certainly not frustrating. Actually, it’s really exciting.
It’s only by having people like that really test what we are talking about, test
the metrics, test the concepts we’ve developed that actually you find
out how rigorous they are. And in the real world, these are going to
be tested so we need to have that debated. Availability of clean water underpins
being able to grow food. The availability of water underpins
the ability to be able to create energy. Of course, the Food Security Council want
to talk about it from the perspective of how do we get people enough calories
to live, particularly poor people. The Energy Council want to talk about it
from the perspective of how can we ensure that there is enough energy in each market
for people to improve their quality of life? The aspect of cross-council
interactions is unique, which wouldn’t happen in any
other event crossing beyond one issue and looking at more thematic, systemic issues. You put water up here and then put energy
here and you put agriculture over here. Where is the stressor? Is it that
more water is needed to grow food over here, and if this one gets pulled
a little bit more, what happens to the water available for energy? What
happens to the water available for cities for drinking water? The most important piece of work that the
council has done is to amplify the concept of the water-energy-food nexus,
the relationship between these three critical human development areas, if you will. The world food security right
now is under stress. So the question is how can we really make
sure the water is used effectively, efficiently to produce enough food
for the increased population? It’s that interplay between one council
and the other on problems which are across the boundaries of the council that
is fascinating and very important. Externalities are cost to society which
are part of normal everyday business which business does not pay for.
So in that sense, we are internalizing profits and externalizing costs. Profits are taken in,
costs are pushed out. This can’t go on forever. $2.2 trillion was the total externalities
of the top 3,000 corporations in the world.
That’s not a viable solution for success even for the corporation because at some
point, we will lose the social license to operate. We have the leaders of various sectors
of the society showing up at Davos. And if we are able to create an agenda which
is representative of the problems that we pick up here, we’ve ensured that
issues have come to people’s attention. Some of our events get significant
media coverage. So again, if these are issues that
are important that need to be created awareness for, we take these
messages to the media. It’s been a journey over three years
of helping CEOs and government ministers and the heads of global financial institutions
to understand the importance of water in underpinning economic
growth in particular. Some of these companies are taking steps
to say to the subcontractors in the supply chain, “This is how much water we want used
per unit, per potato, per tomato.” We as a company are also benefiting from
hearing the diverse perspectives of other members because I believe very strongly
that solving this global crisis we face will require collaborative innovation
and involve the cooperation of many, many parties. Business must and will play its role
and contribute to the solution in its own area of responsibility. That is a very positive step.
But the problem is big, right? And the problem is particularly big
if we don’t start to think about ways of addressing it now.
The business of water management is technical, yes, but is also
deeply institutional, political, and indeed, emotional and religious.
And the great challenge of water is how do you bring these various perspectives
together into something which can actually work for people?

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