European Union External Action

EU Water Diplomacy

05/06/2020 - 17:50
Policy - Activity

Tensions and conflicts over access to water continue to rise, as the world’s water resources and ecosystems deteriorate, and the threat of water scarcity spreads. Water has thus become a foreign policy issue, as recognised in the EU by 2013 Foreign Ministers Conclusions. On 19 November 2018, the Foreign Affairs Council adopted new Conclusions on EU Water Diplomacy. The Council made the case for making the link between water, security and peace, including the potential of water as an instrument for peace.

New Council Conclusions on EU Water Diplomacy were adopted on 19 November 2018 by the EU. They seek to develop a new approach to water in a post 2015 world which reflects increasing new challenges (such as climate change or growing water insecurity) and the impact on EU water diplomacy of both the UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The new Council Conclusions recognise the potential for water to affect international peace and security and stress the importance of transboundary water cooperation and governance. The Council Conclusions also highlight the EU's commitment to the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, as components of the right to an adequate standard of living (in accordance with UN HRC Resolution (A/HRC/RES/39/8) of 27 September 2018). They are expected to have an impact in the programming of future financial and technical cooperation with third countries.

There is a long history of conflicts over water resources, and the modern world has all too commonly witnessed the use of water resources and infrastructure as a weapon of war in violent conflicts featuring both states and non-state actors. Such a use is firmly condemned by the EU. On the other hand, water spurs the need for multilateral cooperation and the Council Conclusions stress the EU's readiness to support international cooperation and to address the challenges of such cooperation (tensions among riparian states, armed conflicts, forced displacement, weak institutional performance, etc…).

The EU encourages and supports all relevant stakeholders to develop transboundary arrangements and to set up institutional mechanisms designed to facilitate relations among riparian states. Compliance with international environmental and nuclear safety standards, as well as the participation of all riparian and upstream countries, is essential. The EU will continue to promote the accession and implementation of international agreements on water cooperation, such as the Helsinki Water Convention 1992 – which has been opened to global membership beyond Europe – and the New York Convention 1997. The Council Conclusions stress the need to strengthen water governance at all levels and in cross-cutting sectors.

Concerning the UN 2030 Agenda, progress on SDG 6 is essential for the achievement of other SDGs; and water plays a cross-sectoral role in many other policies such as security, human rights, climate change, food security or energy. Foreign Affairs ministers reaffirmed the importance of integrating a gender perspective into water diplomacy, taking into account that women are particularly affected by the lack of access to water and sanitation. Furthermore, the Council Conclusions stress the EU's commitment to the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, as components of the right to an adequate standard of living. Human rights defenders addressing environment issues should be given protection in this respect. The link is also made between water and the Circular Economy (especially water savings) as well as with climate change and the Paris Agreement. The importance of innovative solutions and partnerships is underlined. The EU will contribute to concerted international efforts on water at the United Nations, and it will support discussions at the UN Security Council linking water, climate, peace and security.

The Council Conclusions encourage EU institutions and EU member States to deploy all available tools to ensure that integrated water policies address the full range of challenges. It is expected that due consideration to the importance of water will be given in the programming of future EU financial and technical cooperation with third countries.

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