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UNGA Debates Water, Sanitation and Sustainable Energy

UNGA19 February 2014: In a thematic debate of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), governments, NGOs and technical experts addressed water, sanitation and sustainable energy, which UNGA President John Ashe called the “pre-eminent development challenges of our world.” They particularly considered the “nexus” or interlinkages among these issues and whether this is a useful basis for their inclusion in the post-2015 development agenda.

UNGA President Ashe noted that the thematic debate, held on 18-19 February 2014, in New York, US, serves as a curtain-raiser for the 68th General Assembly's discussions on setting the stage, and should be seen in conjunction with the activities of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (ICESDF), so as to maintain coherence and coordination among the processes leading to the post-2015 development agenda.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said sustainable development is the guide as the international community seeks to eradicate extreme poverty. He highlighted his Call to Action on Sanitation launched in 2013 and Sustainble Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative launched in 2011. He noted that someone living in a slum likely pays more for water than those from wealthy neighborhoods, and “energy has the same profile” – the wealthier you are, the cheaper your power, he said. Speaking later in the event, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson recalled that 2014 marks the beginning of the UN Decade of SE4ALL.

Girish Menon, Water Aid UK, recommended key indicators for the post-2015 agenda, including that: nobody practices open defecation, every school has safe drinking water, and inequalities are progressively eliminated.

Participants engaged in three interactive panel discussions on: the Global Water Challenge, the Sustainable Energy Challenge, and the Water-Energy Nexus. On the latter topic, one panelist, Felix Dodds, explained that water and energy use and demand are intrinsically connected: low carbon usually means low water use. He said any water-energy or food goal should have integrated targets and indicators, in part because this helps to avoid contradictory policies, and highlighted the upcoming conference on ‘Nexus 2014: Water, Food, Climate and Energy' on 5-8 March 2014. While some government participants supported integration rather than a “silo” approach to the new agenda, others cautioned against subsuming one topic underneath another, or creating a nexus that may limit consideration of, over “oversimplify,” each issue.

Participants also highlighted: World Water Week 2014, held in March, in Tokyo, Japan, will have the “water-energy nexus” as its theme; the need for financial and institutional arrangements on technology transfer, and for the private sector to play an important role; the importance of phasing out subsidies on fossil fuels and agriculture; basin-level management of water resources, and cooperation on transboundary water issues; and that consideration of water and energy should be anchored in equality and equitability paradigms.

In a final keynote presentation, Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo said the “resource nexus” embodies the key principles of sustainable development, through balancing the social, economic and environmental dimensions. Governance of such a nexus depends on defining an agenda, exercising collective leadership, verifying performance, allowing for innovation and a strong evidence base, and inclusiveness of all social groups. He added that the institutional arrangements must not create new and bigger silos, and noted that inter-ministerial networks and working groups have been found to be effective.

Closing the two-day debate, President Ashe said summaries of the event would be shared with participants, the OWG and the ICESDF. [UN Press Release] [Opening Statement of UNGA President] [Statement of UN Secretary-General] [Statement of DSG] [Statement of Under-Secretary-General] [Website of Thematic Debate] [IISD RS Sources] [UNGA President's Summary of Key Messages]