As I have noted, there is a crucial need for a broader perspective, i.e. initiatives to contribute to comprehensive and credible and often disruptive solutions (in the sense of Schumpeter and Christensen) to overcome water overuse. The most important initiative for us in this respect is the 2030 Water Resources Group (2030 WRG) that I have been chairing since its creation.
2030 WRG: donors and partners
2030 WRG starts from the premise that government is the ultimate custodian of water and is essential for comprehensive strategies in watersheds. The 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goal on Water and the High Level Panel on Water announced at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum provides a framework to bring the six targets of the Water Goal to individual countries, breaking down silos at the highest level, building on existing partnerships and initiatives to bring these efforts to scale and transforming the water agenda, in cooperation with the private sector and others.
2030 WRG will be one of the partnerships that will step in. It provides the analytic tools for a relevant, cost-effective approach to improved water efficiency in areas with water overuse, helps with the convening of concerned stakeholders in a watershed, and supports, in some instance even drives, the necessary transformation. As it aims for comprehensive, credible local action, it also intends to overcome the ‘tragedy of the commons’ in watersheds.
One tool for this is the water availability cost curve, shown below for India, summarising the realities of the country’s 19 major river basins and underground aquifers.
Click to open the full size (png, 728Kb)
This tool helps guide governments and stakeholder groups towards the water saving measures that will deliver the highest return per invested dollar (the levers situated on the left hand side of the chart), and it helps avoid ‘make-believe’ actions that do not contribute a significant amount to closing the actual water gap (measured as distance on the x-axes).
Water is local! In the approach proposed by 2030 WRG, therefore, action is driven by local stakeholder groups, under the leadership of governments. Strategies build on a growing set of locally driven initiatives and programmes with the ambition to ultimately impact the global situation.
In a world characterised by scenarios featuring increasing numbers of occurrences of water overuse/shortage, triggering a global food crisis (possibly by 2025 or 2030), it is clearly in the interest of Nestlé that 2030 WRG also works in regions where we do not have a direct supply chain. Indeed, the indirect impact of turmoil from an important global food crisis would affect the company beyond its supply links.
2030 WRG works with a lean global institutional structure. Its’ Secretariat is embedded in the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a branch of the World Bank Group, even if it is local action and priority setting that matters. There are certain activities that may benefit from global structures and networks, such as catalogues of good practice to exchange and disseminate practical experiences discovered in individual countries/watersheds.
The challenges relating to water are enormous, but so is the potential for solutions. First and foremost, existing technologies and well proven best practices should be implemented much more broadly. But there are also opportunities beyond what is already known and/or being done.
Let me just give very few examples of what should and could be done beyond existing initiatives at many different levels in the future.
At Nestlé, we are making considerable efforts to have zero waste operations in our factories and, where we can, waste reduction in our value chain. This is highly relevant also to address water overuse, reducing the waste of embedded water. We can also contribute to implement aspects of a circular economy, e.g. with biogesters for farmers.
We may help in initiating better watershed management, e.g., based on the experience of source catchment protection set up by Nestlé Waters. Here and in some CSV projects, there may well be a potential for innovative technologies.
My post stresses the importance of 2030 WRG as part of the overall strategy. We are beyond the pilot phase, but still limited in our outreach. There is, therefore, a need for deepening and widening, extending our reach to more countries, if possible also to advanced economies.
Within 2030 WRG, and beyond, there is no doubt potential for research and implementation of new technologies for solutions, particularly in the sphere of wastewater, but also harnessing big data to drive greater efficiency in agricultural water use.
Underlying all this, it is essential to increase awareness across all segments of the population and to intensify the public policy dialogue on water, involving those actually concerned by the water megatrends.