Ecosystem Protection Gaining Greater Interest and Understanding

GWP and Wuhan International Water Law Academy are co-organisers of a 6-part series called the "Transboundary Freshwater Security Governance Train." The second session took place on 16 February on “Ecosystems, International Law, and Transboundary Water Cooperation”. The event gathered over 100 participants, led by a panel of international experts who agreed that ecosystems protection has been gaining increased political acceptance and technical understanding in recent years.

The series is based on the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Governance for Transboundary Freshwater Security, which was developed by GWP and GEF IW:LEARN, along with other global partners and experts. The aim of the series is to enhance the MOOC learning experience and provide opportunities for participants to engage and interact with experts.

GWP Senior Network & Transboundary Water Cooperation Specialist Dr. Yumiko Yasuda opened the event by highlighting the rising number of MOOC participants, now up to 1,800 since it opened in August 2020. The course is open and free for anyone to take at their own pace.

Professor Otto Spijkers, Academy of International Water Law, Wuhan University, and Professor Alistair Rieu-Clarke, School of Law, Northumbria University, co-chaired the event. Rieu-Clarke said: "The need, the value in protecting ecosystems is gaining greater political acceptance, greater scientific understanding, and I think that international water law is trying to catch up with that, to see how we can feed that into our international agreements."

Dr. Yang Liu, School of Law, Ghent University, gave a presentation on what the protection and preservation of ecosystems in international watercourses means in practical terms, by ​examining the concepts, definitions and terminology that surround this.

Professor Owen McIntyre, School of Law, University College Cork, pointed out the recent boost that the topic has undergone: “We see that the ecosystems approach has been technically and normatively elaborated to a significant degree in recent years. I looked at one of the questions that came up in the preparation of this event, which was: “how can the ecosystems services approach inform the design of transboundary water agreements?” I would suggest that it has a game-changing role in both the design and implementation of water agreements because it provides both methodology and potential to increase water cooperation by informing the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization.”

Mr. Dimitris Faloutsos, Deputy Regional Co-ordinator, GWP Mediterranean, elaborated on this, saying that science has an important role in establishing cooperation in the design of legal instruments. He shared his experiences from the Drin River Basin, which is an environmental hotspot where GWP Mediterranean, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has been working for over ten years with ministries to enhance transboundary cooperation.

Professor Jackie King, Water Matters, South Africa, and 2019 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate, said: "As a river scientist, I have been studying rivers for over 40 years, and during that time I have watched river development work and the increasing concern around the world on what that development can cause. When humans intervene by changing the flow or sediment movements along the rivers, this changes everything in the river system - the channels, the trees, the wildlife, the birds, the reptiles – and across the world hundreds of millions of people depend on healthy rivers."

The worldwide concern for the rivers led to the emergence of so-called ecosystem models which try to predict what the river changes could be. The models are used to share scenarios with decision-makers and give input to decision-making and the arena of law. This has added more complexity to the process but has also changed the focus from purely economic concerns to take into consideration social and ecological perspectives.

Watch the full recording of the session: 

Coming up:

The ‘Transboundary Freshwater Security Governance Train’ continues in the coming months, with the following events planned:

Session 3:  International Water Law (IWL), Transboundary Water Cooperation and the Role of Institutions (16 March 2021): How is transboundary water cooperation facilitated in international law? What legal processes contribute to hydro diplomacy on the ground? What options do States have when they disagree over how a transboundary watercourse should be utilized and/or protected?        

Session 4: IWL & Climate Change (20 April 2021): What strategies are there to help countries adapt to/tackle climate change within a transboundary contact? What are the legal challenges and how can national, regional and global legal requirements be addressed?

Session 5: IWL & Infrastructure Projects (18 May 2021): What are the legal rules and procedures for building major infrastructure? How does international water law, human rights and international investment law combine to deal with these issues?

Session 6: IWL & Groundwater (15 June 2021): How is transboundary groundwater governed – what are the legal rules that apply and how to implement these in practice? Focus on existing best practice and key challenges.