4th Meeting of the OECD Water Governance Initiative



Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the 4th Meeting of the OECD Water Governance Initiative

25 November 2014, Paris, France
(As prepared for delivery)


Ladies and Gentlemen:


I am delighted to welcome you today to the 4th meeting of the OECD Water Governance Initiative. I had the privilege of launching the very first meeting in March of last year. That was by video message, and I am delighted to be here in person this year.


This Initiative was created following the OECD’s commitment at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille in 2012 to spearhead robust economic and evidence-based analysis, tailored policy dialogues, and multi-stakeholder consultation in support of better water governance.


In Marseille, we decided to set out a shift from discussion to action. With a draft of the OECD Principles on Water Governance on the table, and focused panels yesterday on a key country, Brazil, and today on the challenges of urban water governance, you have put concrete action at the heart of your agenda. This is great work.

Thank you and congratulations to the Steering Committee

I’d therefore like to start by extending my heartfelt congratulations to the Steering Committee and its Chair, Peter Glas.


In the last 18 months, you have taken the lead on the governance theme for the 7th World Water Forum to be held in Korea in 2015. You have also been working to develop water governance indicators to support the implementation of a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal on water for the post-2015 agenda.



These indicators will help measure the degree of institutional fragmentation, for example, and the effectiveness of stakeholder engagement.



Your leadership in peer-reviewing and experience-sharing dialogues have also helped to disseminate and scale up best practices; and are essential in supporting governments design better water policies. And you are now advancing the crucial agenda for the OECD Principles on Water Governance in ways that are innovative, bottom-up and inclusive.


Valued members of the Steering Committee, Mr Glas, we thank you for your dedication and your hard work.


Let me now go to the essence of our meeting: improving water governance.



The challenges of a new global water reality 



As you know, the crisis put environmental issues on the backburner. But we have continued to sound the alarm and now, with the remarkable new commitments on emissions by Europe and more recently the US and China, we are back in business.


We must make the most of this new momentum. The size of our environmental challenges is huge, The water sector is no exception.


Today, 40% of the world’s population lives in water-stressed river basins, facing a bleak future. OECD Projections in the Environmental Outlook to 2050 are sobering: by the middle of this century, total water demand is set to rise by 55% while demand from manufacturing is projected to increase by 400%.


Continued depletion of groundwater supplies will pose enormous challenges to both national and international food security. In 2050, around 240 million people are expected to remain without access to clean water, and 1.4 billion without access to basic sanitation.


Good governance is central to meeting these potentially devastating environmental, humanitarian and economic challenges.



The critical importance of good governance



The “water crisis” is mainly a governance crisis. Managed correctly, there is enough water on earth for all, but managing water is a complex issue involving multiple stakeholders from all levels of government with different views and objectives.


Let me highlight three areas where swift coordinated action can make a big difference:


Water security requires incentives to manage trade-offs among divergent objectives at the relevant scale, which implies understanding who does what, how and at which level.

The Water-Food-Energy nexus, which will be extensively discussed during our Global Forum on Environment later this week, requires strong governance frameworks for greater policy coherence and consistency.

Good governance can help remove barriers to innovation and promote the use of alternative water resources and technologies, such as green chemicals, recycled wastewater, and desalination.


These governance solutions will only be viable if policies are consistent and coherent, if stakeholders are properly engaged across levels of government, if well-designed regulatory frameworks are put in place, if capacity building is strengthened, and if integrity and transparency are fostered. These are many ‘ifs’ but we can make it happen.



The contribution of the OECD



The OECD can play a valuable role in supporting and advancing these governance solutions. Our work on water governance is spearheaded by the OECD Territorial Development Policy Committee, whose vice-chair Peter Wostner, is sitting next to me. The Committee has been instrumental in supporting the generation of evidence and data on sub-national governments, which in many countries are in charge of managing water as a local natural resource.



The Territorial Development Policy Committee also guided the work that resulted earlier this year in the adoption of an OECD recommendation on principles for governing public investment across levels of government. This was an important and timely step forward underpinning the work on water governance.



The OECD also has an important role to advise on water reforms in member and partner countries. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all governance solution to our water challenges, but drawing lessons from success and failure is a critical part of our work. With this evidence in hand, we can catalyse political commitment at the highest levels to reform and reap the economic benefits of good governance.  



Armed with this evidence-based OECD approach our mission is to produce a new essential tool: The OECD Principles on Water Governance.



The OECD Principles on Water Governance: a great new tool for policymakers



Such Principles on Water Governance will allow us to take our service to citizens and decision-makers to the next level. We will be able to provide policymakers with concrete, coordinated policy guidance to get institutions right and fit for a water-scarce future.



Your work on the draft of the Principles, structured around the three core strategic blocks of effectiveness, efficiency and trust, is absolutely central to making sure we deliver the policy tool that is so urgently needed by governments.



As you discuss the draft of the Principles, I urge you to be open, ambitious and forward-looking. Multiple stakeholder networks at the OECD, each with their own broad expertise, are uniquely placed to help us achieve the best possible policy results. We can deliver Principles with Implementation as well as Design at their core.



Looking ahead to the 7th World Water Forum in Korea in 2015, the OECD Water Governance Initiative, in partnership with all the institutions gathered today, will propose concrete actions to support the implementation of the Principles in the run up to the 8th World Water Forum in Brasilia in 2018.



The OECD is fully committed to this timetable and will present the final version of the Principles to our next Ministerial Conference in June 2015. This will be done with the support of Ambassador Noe Van Hulst, who will chair our next MCM and who is also present here today. So far we are on track for the all-important OECD Recommendation on Water in 2016.



Ladies and Gentlemen:


A line in Herman Melville’s great novel Moby Dick reminds us that: “Meditation and water are wedded forever”. Let’s prove him right by reflecting together on the best ways to improve water governance. 


We urgently need to step up our efforts. The last OECD Recommendation on Water dates back to 1989. Since then, the water climate has changed  drastically and the governance climate has evolved towards more bottom-up, decentralised and participatory systems.


Let’s work together to deliver innovative thinking and concrete results in time for Korea and in time for our MCM. Let’s act now to design, develop and deliver and implement better water governance policies for better lives.


Thank you.