Monday, June 24, 2013

Systemic water governance - what prospects?

An international conference on water governance called 'Water in the Anthropocene: Challenges for Science and Governance' has recently been held.  I had hoped to attend but some personal matters interferred.  Several friends and colleagues attended so I have been asking for feedback.  I have been keen to know what was discussed and where they felt, as a result of their attendance, water goverance (including research and policy) was heading.

The conference organisers have been very professional - they have an excellent website and already most (but not all) of the presentations have been posted (though at least one is attributed to the wrong presenter).  Among these is a presentation Catherine Allan (Charles Sturt University) and I co-developed:  Exploration of metaphors to transform water governance praxis. A copy of the abstract of the talk is given at the end of this post. I also participated vicariously in a session concerned with transboundary water governance.

One of the outcomes of the conference was the Bonn Declaration on Global Water Security. It can be signed here. Also produced was 'a film charting the global impact of humanity on the global water cycle' [because] 'evidence is growing that our global footprint is now so significant that we have driven Earth into a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. Human activities such as damming and agriculture are changing the global water cycle in significant ways.'

Despite these achievements many of my collegues were disappointed with what was discussed. Most felt that, in the 'mainstream' sessions at least, little new and needed was adequately addressed. This is clearly the perspective held by Brian Richter in his artcle: 'My fellow scientists: no more chicken little'. He says:

"When I heard that the Bonn conference participants had issued a new “Declaration on Global Water Security” I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

I’m under-whelmed.
Not to take anything away from the wonderful work that these scientists have been doing to document the changes the Earth has experienced under the heavy hand of humankind.  But they have not yet learned how to translate their science knowledge and findings into tangible, implementable solutions.

The Declaration proclaims that we need six things: (1) More science. (2) More science. (3) Train more scientists. (4) Expand monitoring (i.e., more science).  (5) Consider ecosystem-based alternatives to costly structural solutions for climate proofing. (6) Change water institutions."

Other comments I received included:

"I had high hopes in the opening session of this conference; all sorts of ideas about changing approaches needed for the big changes happening....but by the time I gave my paper on day two I was feeling a bit frustrated. I have a list of Words I heard a lot at the conference and these include trade off, models, trade offs, models....and lots and lots of global maps with colours on them. There was plenty of identification of the need to talk with stakeholders, and policy makers, but almost always in terms of "them", and never once in my hearing any consideration that the people in the room were also stakeholders. There has been some talk of language, but almost invariably in the form of how do we get our message across to policy makers in a way they will understand, never about co-creation of messages. And then I was in a session where the need to engage with stakeholders was raised with the comment that we need to do it but we don't know how to engage yet, we don't have the methods, or something like that. I mean, honestly, we don't know how to engage with stakeholders? Anyway, what this meant was by the time I presented yesterday I was calling for revolution...and began the presentation with that call.'

So I am left with the sense that I have had for some time that there remains a major failure to adequately frame the issues of systemic water governance and to appreciate the praxis elements needed to effect on-going systemic governance.  Fortunately there were exceptions to this generalisation such as the presentations by James Patterson, Ryan Plummer and colleagues, Rob de Loe and Andrea Gerlak and colleagues.  Those who participated are listed here. Related projects and initiatives mentioned included:

GWSP: Global Water System Project

GLOWA: Global Change and the Hydrological Cycle

Water Challenges for a Changing World Joint Programming Initiative:

European Innovation Partnership on Water:

UN Economic Commission for Europe:

UN Watercourses Convention:  [regarding cooperation on the equitable and reasonable use and management of international watercourses, with a view to attaining their sustainable utilization and adequate protection].

GEF International Water Programme:

Abstract: Exploration of metaphors to transform water governance praxis

Catherine Allan, Ray Ison & Kevin Collins

Failure to slow or reverse anthropogenic climate change in the next decade will have catastrophic economic and social consequences. Radical action is required to maintain human wellbeing, action that includes not only mitigation, but also ‘adaptation’. Adaptation is urgently needed within contexts of water governing and managing, but the record of innovation and reform in these contexts is poor. Internationally and nationally there has been a shift in the discourse around rivers and their management away from water management to water governance. This presents an opportunity  to develop processes and techniques to draw attention to fresh understandings of operational framings and narratives, which in turn will enable and encourage adaptation. 

The processes and techniques we discuss in this paper are based on the exploration of metaphor.  In doing so we build on two emerging traditions in metaphor research: (i) the purposeful use of chosen metaphors to learn about and reframe organisational activity and (ii) the emergence of what is now called Contemporary Theory of Metaphor (CTM, formerly Conceptual Metaphor Theory).  Our recent experiences in Australia and the UK suggest that metaphors associated with two contrasting, yet pervasive rationalities are conserved in the latest ‘water governance experiments’. In Australia metaphors that enable neo-classical economic theory to operate can be found, such as ‘waterway assets’ and ‘water assets management’. Others such as ‘river or waterway health’ conserve a particular lineage of ecological rationality. In the UK, as part of the enactment of the Water Framework Directive, metaphors such river “condition” and “pressures” on that condition suggest a new ecological rationality is competing with an older technical rationality.

1 comment:

Pier Paolo Roggero said...

Hi Ray: is it available an extended version of your paper?