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The Coming Water Crisis: A Common Concern of Humankind

  • Edith Brown Weiss (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

This essay argues that fresh water, its availability and use, should now be recognized as ‘a common concern of humankind’, much as climate change was recognized as a ‘common concern of humankind’ in the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and conservation of biodiversity was recognized as a ‘common concern of humankind’ in the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity. This would respond to the many linkages between what happens in one area with the demand for and the supply of fresh water in other areas. It would take into account the scientific characteristics of the hydrological cycle, address the growing commodification of water in the form of transboundary water markets and virtual water transfers through food production and trade, and respect the efforts to identify a human right to water.

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1 New York, NY (US), 9 May 1992, in force 21 Mar. 1994, available at: http://unfccc.int.

2 Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 5 June 1992, in force 29 Dec. 1993, available at: http://www.cbd.int/convention/text.

3 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Global Environment Outlook (GEO) 4: Environment for Development (UNEP, 2007), p. 118, available at: http://www.unep.org/geo/GEO4/report/GEO-4_Report_Full_en.pdf.

4 Brown L.R., ‘Growing Water Deficit Threatening Grain Harvests’, Earth Policy Institute, 20 July 2011, available at: http:www.earth-policy.org/book_bytes/2011/wotech2_ss2.

5 See Bates B., Kundzewicz Z.W., Wu S. & Palutikof J. (eds.), ‘Climate Change and Water’, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Technical Paper VI, June 2008, available at: http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/technical-papers/climate-change-water-en.pdf.

6 Directive 2000/60/EC establishing a Framework for Community Action in the Field of Water Policy (Water Framework Directive) [2000] OJ L 327/1.

7 New York, NY (US), 21 May 1997, not yet in force, UN Doc. A/RES/51/229 (1997), available at: http://untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/conventions/8_3_1997.pdf.

8 ILC, Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers (2008), GAOR, 63rd Sess., Supp. No. 10, UN Doc. A/63/10, available at: http://untreaty.un.org/ilc/texts/instruments/english/draft%20articles/8_5_2008.pdf.

9 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, 1978, as amended by 1983 and 1987 Protocols, 22 November 1978, 30 UST 1383, TIAS 9357, as amended 16 Oct. 1987, TIAS 10798, and 18 Nov. 1987, available at: http://binational.net/glwqa_2010_e.html.

10 Helsinki (Finland), 17 Mar. 1992, in force 6 Oct. 1996, E/ECE 1267 (1992), available at: http://www.unece.org/env/water.

11 See, e.g., Brown Weiss E., Boisson de Chazournes L. & Bernasconi-Osterwalder N. (eds.), Fresh Water and International Economic Law (Oxford University Press, 2005).

12 The Right to Water (Articles 11, 12), General Comment 15 on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, UN Doc. E/C.12/2002/11, 20 Jan. 2003, available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/water/docs/cescr_gc_15.pdf.

13 European Parliament Resolution on the Commission Communication on Water Management in Developing Countries and Priorities for EU Development Cooperation (COM(2002)132-C5-0335/2002-2002/2179(COS))(2003).

14 E.g., Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 4 Dec. 1996, Art. 27(1)(b) (‘Everyone has the right to have access to (b) sufficient food and water’); the Constitution of the Republic of Bolivia, 2009; and the Constitution of the Republic of Uruguay, Arts. 47 and 188.

15 The Human Right to Water and Sanitation, UNGA Res. 64/292, UN Doc. A/RES/64/292, 3 Aug. 2010, available at: http://daccess-ods.un.org/TMP/1492654.html.

16 Human Rights and Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, UN Human Rights Council Resolution 15/9, UN Doc. A/HRC/RES/15/9, 6 Oct. 2010, available at: http://daccess-ods.un.org/TMP/3002171.html.

17 C. de Albuquerque & M. Sepulveda, ‘Joint Report of the Independent Expert on the Question of Human Rights and Extreme Poverty and the Independent Expert on the Issue of Human Rights Obligations Related to Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation’, 22 July 2010, UN Doc. A/HRC/15/55, available at: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G10/154/51/PDF/G1015451.pdf?OpenElement. The UN Millennium Development Goals (2000), Goal No. 7, linked issues of sustained access to water with basic sanitation, and set the framework for future discussion in the UN; see http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals.

18 See, e.g., Gorove S., ‘Earth Resources Satellites and International Law’ (1973) 1 Journal of Space Law, pp. 80104, and other articles in the same issue.

19 Grey D., ‘International Waters and Water Security: Positions, Interests and Experience,’ Presentation, Conference on Freshwater and International Law: ‘The Multiple Challenges’, Geneva (Switzerland), 8 July 2011 (available from author); see also Grey D. & Sadoff C., ‘Sink or Swim? Water Security for Growth and Development’, (2007) 9(6) Water Policy, pp. 545–71.

20 Yang H. & Zehnder A., ‘“Virtual Water”: An Unfolding Concept in Integrated Water Resources Management’ (2007) 43(4W12301) Water Resources Research, available at: doi:10.1029/2007WR006048;Hoekstra A.Y., (ed.), ‘Virtual Water Trade’, Proceedings of the International Expert Meeting on Virtual Water Trade, IHE, Delft (The Netherlands), 1213 Dec. 2002, Value of Water Research Report Series No. 12, Feb. 2003, available at: http://www.waterfootprint.org/Reports/Report12.pdf.

21 Brown L.R., World on the Edge (Earthscan, 2011).

22 Konar M., et al. , ‘Water For Food, The Global Virtual Water Trade Network’, (2011) 47(W05520) Water Resources Research, available at: doi:10.1029/2010WR010307.

23 See, e.g., Ananthaswamy A., ‘African Land Grab Could Lead to Future Water Conflicts’, New Scientist, 26 May 2011; L. Cotula, S. Vermeulen, R. Leonard & J. Keeley, ‘Land Grab or Development Opportunity? Agricultural Investment and International Land Deals in Africa’, International Institute for Environment and Development, Food and Agriculture Organization, and International Fund for Agricultural Development, 2009, available at:http://pubs.iied.org/pdfs/12561IIED.pdf.

24 Deininger K. & Byerlee D., with Lindsay J., Norton A., Selod H. & Stickle M., Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can It Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits? (World Bank, 2011).

25 For remarks on certain environmental and social issues associated with such acquisitions, see Hey E., Presentation, Conference on Freshwater and International Law: ‘The Multiple Challenges’, Geneva (Switzerland), 8 July 2011 (available from the author).

26 N. 1 above.

27 N. 2 above.

28 UNGA Resolution 2574-D, UN GAOR, Supp. No. 30 at ll, UN Doc. A/7630 (1969). The Resolution provided for a moratorium on mining the mineral resources of the deep seabed and called for exploitation of the resources only under an international authority operating on behalf of all countries.

29 Montego Bay (Jamaica), 10 Dec. 1982, in force 16 Nov. 1994, available at: http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_overview_convention.htm. Art. 136 states: ‘The Area and its resources are common heritage of mankind.’

30 N. 8 above.

31 UNEP, Report of Meeting of Group of Legal Experts to Examine the Concept of the ‘Common Concern of Mankind in Relation to Global Environmental Issues’, 20–22 Mar. 1991, available at: http://www.juridicas.unam.mx/publica/librev/rev/iidh/cont/13/doc/doc29.pdf.

32 See, e.g., Bierman F., ‘Common Concern of Humankind: The Emergence of a New Concept of International Environmental Law’, (1996) 34(4) Archiv des Völkerrechts, pp. 426–81; Brunnée J., ‘Common Areas, Common Heritage, and Common Concern’, in Bodansky D., Brunnée J. & Hey E. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of International Environmental Law (Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 550–72; Murase S., ‘Climate Change and Beyond: Protection of the Atmosphere’, Presentation, Asian Society of International Law Meeting, Beijing (China), 28 Aug. 2011 (available from author).

33 UNEP Experts Report, n. 31 above.

34 Earth Charter (2000), available at: http://www.EarthCharterinaction.org. The Charter has been endorsed by thousands of organizations worldwide.

35 IUCN Commission on Environmental Law & World Conservation Union, in cooperation with the International Council of Environmental Law, Draft International Covenant on Environment and Development, 2nd edn., updated (2000), available at: http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/EPLP-031-rev.pdf. The Draft Covenant recognizes a broad global interest in the environment and provides that ‘[t]he global environment is a common concern of humanity’ (Art. 3).

36 Agreement on Agriculture and Agreement on Countervailing Measures, 15 April 1994, available at: http://www.wto.org.

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Transnational Environmental Law
  • ISSN: 2047-1025
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