Interview with Stuart Orr, global Freshwater Lead with WWF and a keynote speaker during AIWW.

“Amsterdam International Water Week comes at a crucial time for global action on climate change, set between key, high profile events. Climate change impacts will be felt largely through water, so there are real opportunities to elevate water – and the importance of rivers and wetlands – in debates, planning and investment,” says Stuart Orr, global Freshwater Lead with WWF and a keynote speaker during AIWW.

“It is unfortunate that water and freshwater ecosystems are still not being correctly valued or getting the attention they deserve, despite the daily diet of news stories about water-related climate impacts,” cautions Orr. “But at least water is starting to feature more in debates around adaptation and resilience – giving us the chance to bring discussions back to the river, to the fundamental need to plan at a landscape level if we are to have any chance of successfully adapting to the climate crisis.”

The value of water

Orr certainly believes that the water community has made an important contribution to shifting the narrative and is offering viable solutions. “I think we are putting a lot of really great ideas on the table – innovative and progressive ideas,” says Orr, adding: “Water stewardship, bankable water solutions, water risk assessment tools, nature-based solutions: we’re doing our part. But many of these innovative solutions are still sitting on the table because decisions-makers in government, finance and business continue to misunderstand the value of water – and freshwater resources.”

Consequently, AIWW offers an opportunity to reach and influence key decision makers. “Increased investment in water is essential, but not just in new infrastructure and supply projects. It is also crucial to support better governance, enabling environments and protection of freshwater ecosystems to reduce risk and build resilience, yet I am not seeing a mind-set change from investors and bankers: they still can’t see the river for the water,” says Orr. “What we need is a flood of smarter investments in landscapes, which will create value not only for the investor, but also build resilience in river basins.”

Such investments include the new €160 million Dutch Fund for Climate and Development (DFCD), says Orr. “The DFCD is a game-changer. Managed by a consortium of FMO, Climate Fund Managers, SNV and WWF, the fund will support sustainable development and enhance the health of critical ecosystems – from river basins to rainforests – by using bankable projects to leverage at least €500 million in new private financing for water and freshwater ecosystems, forestry, climate-smart agriculture and nature restoration.”

Need for action

Orr is hopeful that momentum will build rapidly once the world really starts to tackle the twin climate and biodiversity crises. “WWF is hugely concerned by the freshwater biodiversity crisis, which seldom gets talked about in global events. We’ve lost around 83% of freshwater species populations in the last 40 years. It is clear that we must address the heart of the matter – the urgent need to protect ecosystems for people and nature.”

But Orr knows there is still a long way to go to get, as AIWW is doing, cities, utilities, investors and industry working together. “There has been progress and there are some influential water champions in these communities, but nowhere near enough is being done,” he says.

“Reducing emissions and keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees is essential, but there also needs to be a major shift towards adaptation, as the recent Global Commission on Adaptation report made very clear,” says Orr. “The world needs to stop seeing rivers as just water pipes, sewers and batteries, but rather as critical, dynamic systems that underpin our future.”

Join forces

“For the AIWW audience, I think there are some things that we need to galvanise around,” adds Orr, highlighting the need to start valuing rivers and wetlands for all their diverse benefits and leveraging private financing for nature-based solutions.

“The world faces worsening water risks. But there are also real opportunities that we can seize if we – the water community, companies, investors and governments – work together: opportunities that can help to restore freshwater ecosystems and build more resilient societies and economies.”

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