Urgent Call for Climate Action with UN Convention for Conserving River Deltas

People in a boat on the Mekong River

There are chronic, emerging challenges, each with its own set of cascading impacts involving water issues across the globe, especially for developing nations. Flooding in both highland and lowland areas tends to have devastating impacts on food production, housing, clean drinking water supplies and infrastructure. These impacts are more pronounced across Asia and Africa due to poor infrastructure development and response strategies.

The recent flooding that devastated communities in Nigeria and Pakistan demonstrates the complexity of cascading impacts of climate induced flood waters on social and environmental systems. Conversely, climate change induced droughts lead to less water availability for food and energy production in vulnerable countries. Droughts also reduces water flows from highlands to lowlands, effectively causing the death of rivers and enabling saltwater intrusion in river deltas due to sea level rise.

Climate change poses complex human and environmental security challenges in both developed and developing countries. Increasingly evident is the variability in seasonal and sub-seasonal weather patterns and extremes that result in significant losses of productive agricultural lands, ecosystems, and biodiversity. It is threatening the wellbeing and livelihoods for many rural people and local communities, including deteriorating food production systems, increasing food shortages, expanding water conflicts, and growing populations of climate refugees.

Water resource challenges will continue to top global discussion, and climate change will be a main driver for most water-related challenges leading to human migration, especially among young people, along with poverty, hunger, communal conflicts, and new disease outbreaks. These impacts have serious implications for the future peaceful coexistence of sub-Sahara Africa (SSA), South Asian and South-East Asian countries with shared trans-boundary water resources. Unfortunately, indigenous communities, especially women, young people, and the elderly remain the most vulnerable and mostly affected by these impacts.

River deltas in particular provide habitats for more than half a billion people and thousands of species, supporting fishery resources, forest products and agriculture. The deltas provide food for billions and livelihoods for millions of people worldwide. It will all be lost if nothing is done to address the underlying challenges through partnership, greater UN recognition, and closer attention to river deltas to ensure their sustainability.

Effective, integrative policies are needed to halt further climate change, as well as adaptation to the changes. Otherwise, many nations will not have access to water resources their populations need.

The Transboundary Water In-Cooperation Network (TWIN), a network of grassroots organizations, academic and scientific institutions, and individuals sharing a vision of clean water for all, is focused on two specific water-related concerns:

  1. Ocean-facing river deltas confronted by sea level rise and saltwater intrusion.
  2. Melting glaciers in highlands leading to streamflow variability in lowlands and deltas of river basins.

Participating in the UN Convention events, TWIN hopes to expand conversations that were started at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, the Cairo Water Week (Egypt), and New York Water Week 2023, to build on international alliances. TWIN is working toward a UN-sanctioned River Delta Convention modeled after the UNCCD (the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification), which provides a structure, status, and UN high-level recognition of their place-based challenges. In this regard, TWIN is seeking recognition of the ecological, environmental, socio-economic and cultural sustainability of river deltas and their communities.

Four hybrid (online and in-person) events will focus on:

  1. Engaging representatives of vulnerable communities from focal river deltas.
  2. Scientists engaged in understanding the risks faced by delta communities.
  3. Urgent policy and governance actions needed to build integrative “highlands to oceans” approaches for conserving river deltas.
  4. Building cooperation and peace in the face of rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion in deltas in the face of global climate change.

The first event is entitled, Community Voices: Deltas Unite: Urgent Call for Climate Action with a UN Convention for Conserving River Deltas. It is scheduled for September 22, 2023 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. EST. Click here for the first event registration link.

The second event is entitled, Policy and Governance solution: Urgent Call for Climate Action with a UN Convention for Conserving River Deltas (UN-CCRD). It is scheduled for Friday, October 20, 2023 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. EST. Click this link to register for the second event.

The third event will be organized from the UNFCCC COP28 meeting venue in Dubai, from November 30 to December 11, 2023, to discuss the policy actions embedded in the draft UN-CCRD.

The fourth event will be organized in Spring 2024 to finalize the draft UN CCRD for circulation among representatives of governments of participating delta countries, including but not limited to Nigeria, Egypt, DRC, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Netherlands, USA, Brazil and Canada.

The target audiences for these events include researchers, students, faculty members, scientists, communities from river deltas and citizens.

The UN Convention events are being organized by the UVM Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security, in partnership with the Transboundary Water In-Cooperation Network (TWIN), African Centre for Climate Actions and Rural Development Initiative (ACCARD), Center for Capacity Building at the University of Colorado, Environmental Peace Building, and CAPA at Bennington College, among others.

Useful links:

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