"If we aren’t taking steps to address climate change, we are fighting with one hand tied behind our back."

Statement by Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations, on Transboundary Waters.

Thank you Mr President.

At the outset let me thank Council members for your words of condolence and support here and elsewhere following the horrific attack in London this weekend. The perpetrators sought to terrorise us, to divide us. But make no mistake, they will fail. Together, we will defeat them, and we will need Security Council unity and activism against this terrible scourge.

Turning to this afternoon’s session, I would like to thank the Secretary-General for his briefing and I want to join others in paying tribute to you, your Excellency President Morales, for your leadership in bringing this crucial issue of transboundary water security to the Security Council.

It is an issue, which we used not to discuss in this Chamber, but I think it’s one that warrants our fullest attention. The stakes are high; over three quarters of UN Member States share river basins with another country and over 2 billion people live in shared river basins in the developing world.

Sadly, we know what can happen when the water runs dry. In Somalia, drought is driving the acute food shortage that threatens to tip over once again in to famine. One powerful lesson from the last famine in Somalia six years ago was that famine is not simply about food, but also about water. In north-eastern Nigeria, lack of water is exacerbating the man made crisis, as we saw for ourselves when we visited in March. Thousands of displaced people, the majority of whom are women and children, have become sick from diseases spread by dirty water and poor hygiene as the conflict continues.

We have to act - and we have agreed to act. Through the Global Goals, we all committed to deliver improved water security, improved access to drinking water and sanitation, and stronger transboundary water management.

And yet, the outlook for 2030 is fragile. We are simply not on track. The UN estimates that by the time we’re supposed to have achieved Global Goal 6, demand for water in many developing countries will outstrip supply by 40%. If such scarcity is combined with weak governance, population growth, migration and climate change, we may face a potential upsurge in global conflict in the future.

This, therefore, is a clear call for preventative diplomacy, as so many of my colleagues have already said –all of us in this room have a part to play, Mr President.

In South Asia, for example, the United Kingdom has provided 30 million dollars towards water governance over the past five years. One billion people across Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan rely heavily on just three rivers. And despite facing similar problems posed by water demand and climate change, regional collaboration between these countries is limited.

That’s why we have supported a regional approach to these rivers in order to address the shared challenges of development and climate change. We’re working with the World Bank’s South Asia Water Initiative, bringing together different disciplines and experiences –technical and political – across the region so that together we can identify and resolve challenges affecting these transboundary waters.

But to tackle this problem on a global scale, we’ll need more than bilateral or regional action. We’ll need to work together, through this institution and others. Holding this briefing is an important step, but this effort needs to be sustained; we cannot solve it through one meeting a year.

The G20 also has a role to play, including through incentivising water cooperation. This isn’t just an issue for the developing world; the OECD and Global Water Partnership estimate that water insecurity costs the global economy 500 billion dollars every year, and yet we fall a long way short of meeting the 198 billion dollars of global investment that is needed every year for water governance and infrastructure.

So we need to see investment in the institutions and infrastructure to deliver improved water security within states and between states. Building effective institutions and delivering better governance is just as critical as building infrastructure. The G20 can play a critical role through diplomatic efforts, development cooperation, and harnessing the potential of the private sector, governments and communities to mobilise investment in water security.

Finally, Mr President, if we’re to make progress on this issue before 2030, we need to see the bigger picture. Across the world, climate change is undermining water security. In almost all climate change scenarios the world’s driest regions become drier and across the globe flooding will become more common. If we aren’t taking steps to address climate change, we are fighting with one hand tied behind our back.

The Paris Agreement provides the right global framework for protecting the prosperity and security of future generations, while keeping energy affordable and secure for our citizens and businesses. The United Kingdom played a major role in securing the Paris Agreement and I’m proud to restate in this Chamber today that we are wholly committed to it.

Thank you Mr President.


Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Matthew Rycroft