Category: Global Governance

COP 28 – The Bridge Tank’s takeaways from Dubai

Since 2015 and COP21 in Paris, The Bridge Tank’s presence at the Conference of Parties has become an annual opportunity for our think tank to contribute to public debate on climate action and sustainable development. This year’s COP28 in Dubai, UAE, was no exception, as Joel Ruet, Chairman of The Bridge Tank took part in the conference from November 30 to December 4, in coordination with the French Water Partnership and the International Network of Basin Organisations (INBO).

Beyond the official negociations, marked by tensions and frustrations but which resulted in a landmark agreement nonetheless, COPs are an opportunity to regularly engage with change makers from around the world, discover success stories and projects developed by creative practitioners and learn more about the latest innovation milestones on those topics that have been at the heart of The Bridge Tank’s actions over the years, i.e. energy transitions, economic growth models and the role of the industry, agriculture and land adaptation. These themes all witnessed progress at COP28, as fossil fuels were mentioned in the final agreement, as commitments by industrial actors multiplied and as the loss & damages fund was enacted.

Besides, The Bridge Tank had the privilege of being directly involved in the presentation of two of those success stories originating from West Africa, which assessed the contribution to the development of the region:

– provided by the hydroelectric infrastructure and associated programs carried out by the Organisation for the Development of the Senegal River (OMVS). The side event was convened by the OMVS and SOGEM, with the official support of CILSS, which welcomed the event on its pavilion, and The Bridge Tank.

– offered by innovative finance for climate projects, with the official launch of the Climate Study Fund of the West African Development Bank.

For more on our board members’ participation in the COP in Dubai:

Food security : governance, security and climate resilience

Illustrating the growing awareness taking hold on the intersection between issues of governance, security, and climate change, the Munich Security Conference (MSC) was an important contributor of this year’s COP28 in Dubai. One issue particularly stands at the crossroads of these diverse challenges : food security.

On December 2, the MSC therefore organised a closed door side event titled “Dried Up: Strengthening Resilience of Food Systems in Light of Climate Change.” The event explored how climate change contributes to current food insecurity, a crisis already aggravated by Russia’s war in Ukraine, various regional conflicts, the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic shocks, and supply chain challenges across the globe.

How can efforts to fight climate change and hunger best be aligned? How can COP28 serve as a platform to bring the two policy communities together to address the ripple-effects of climate change on global food security? These were some of the questions driving the discussion between:

  • Cindy Hensley McCain, Executive Director, United Nations World Food Programme
  • Vera Songwe, Chairwoman of the Board, The Liquidity and Sustainability Facility
  • Ricarda Lang, Co-Chairwoman, Alliance 90/The Greens Parliamentary Group
  • Nisreen Elsaim, Chair, Sudan Youth  Organization on Climate Change, Khartoum
  • Michael Werz, Senior Advisor, Munich Security Conference (Moderator)

One issue of particular interest to The Bridge Tank is how to finance land restoration along with sustainable and job-creating agriculture, notably in Africa. Our engagement with African Leaders has led us to the idea that a transitory use of natural gas earnings is the way to finance these required investments, in a dual context where sub-saharan Africa has not been a contributor to climate change and needs to fund its sustainable transition on the one hand, while on the other hand, the Global North sees natural gas as a stage of the energy transition.

After these intial investments that would include funding the dissemination of renewable energies in the field, this financing transition could come to an end ; the main message from COP participants from the South being that they increasingly want to rely on sovereign funding for their transformations and not depend on the North when they can. Joël Ruet was able to share these views with the panelists. It is in this very spirit The Bridge Tank is ready to contribute to the task force the Munich Security Council endeavours to launch.

Sustainable trade and free trade as enablers to fight climate change

The previous day, on December 5, Joel Ruet had already been convened to a high level reception on “Sustainable and Inclusive Trade as an Engine of Economic Growth & Prosperity.”

The reception notably brought together:

  • Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State of the United States,
  • Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director general of the World Trade Organization,
  • Maha AlQattan, Group Chief Sustainability Officer, DP World.

Hillary Clinton quoted late Madeleine Albright, saying “I’m an optimist who worries a lot,” thereby finely translating the spirit of COP28 participants at this time of the negotiations. She recalled the efforts of the Global Clinton Initiative towards environmental sustainability and celebrated the fact that an agreement could be reached on loss & damages.

Nonetheless, the fight against climate change also requires a deep long-term agenda, with free trade as part of it, albeit in a rethought manner, Dr Okonjo-Iweala recalled. Indeed, as further mentionned by Dr Okonjo-Iweala, free trade so far has had pros and cons: the pros definitely being on its capacity to provide widespread distribution of green technologies that have been scaled up at rapidly decreasing cost ; the connectivity and the development of the logistics chain have also ensured their reach inland, way beyond capitals or main harbours,  a point DP World’s guest was also keen to emphasize. On the needed improvements of the imprint of free trade, Dr Okonjo-Iweala recalled several positive trends or turnaround points on introducing ESG best standards into the global chain, notably insisting on the leveraging effect of the shipping industry.

Dr Okonjo-Iweala more generally recalled the role of coordination betwen industrial actors, governments and finance, a line of analysis which runs through the history of The Bridge Tank since our inception, based on which we notably contributed to the Energy and Climate task force under the 2023 G20 presidency.

Last but not least, she introduced a welcome progressive outlook at free trade not beeing sought per se, but being accompanied with transparency, equitable norms and social progess in countries and economic systems that want to participate in the WTO system. The attendance, gathering select people from industries and geographies across all continents, could really nod on the fact that a silent revolution is under way.

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, & Maha AlQattan
Accelerating the energy transition : Economic tools and Actors

A key side-event co-organised by the Task Force on Carbon Pricing in Europe chaired by Edmond Alphandéry, former Minister of the Economy of France, and the think tank The Climate Overshoot Commission chaired by Pascal Lamy former DG World Trade Organization, provided a detailed account of state-of-the art thinking in terms of economic tools, technology prospects, and environmental and moral priorities on curbing GHG emissions.

While the IMF representative notably presented results of a landmark study describing the distribution of subsidies to fossil fuels according to production capacities, and Lord Turner presented the updated version of the Energy Transiton Commission approach on the respective role of various technologies, Joel Ruet suggested to work at a connection between the two, not only linking the two parameters but also anchoring them into geographies, in order to set the ground for optionable scenarios and policies.  

The Bridge Tank having been a regular participant of the Task Force, we were happy to see the continuous progress over time of its results and achievements.

The side event “Coping with global warming and reducing the risk of a warming climate” gave the floor to :

  • Edmond Alphandéry, President of the Task Force on Carbon Pricing in Europe, former Minister of the Economy of France;
  • Dora Benedek, Division Chief, Climate Policy Division, Fiscal Affairs Department, International Monetary Fund; 
  • Lord Adair Turner, Chair of the Energy Transitions Commission; 
  • Julien Perez, Vice President, Strategy & Policy, Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI); 
  • Pascal Lamy, Chair of the Climate Overshoot Commission, former Director-General of the World Trade Organization;
  • Hina Rabbani Khar, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, member of the Climate Overshoot Commission.
Lord Adair Turner

In GHG mitigation, actors matter. On December 5, Joel Ruet was invited to join a dinner on “Accelerating the Energy Transition: The Need for Collective Action,” organised by the Emirati logistics company DP World and gathering a blend of economic actors in the harbour and shipping industry, NGOs engaged into adaptation, and industrial apex bodies. This was in line with The Bridge Tank’s participation into the working groups of the Business20 of the G20.

The event discussed possible avenues of action to facilitate and accelerate the transition to low-carbon energy sources, a longtime subject of interest for The Bridge Tank.

The “fireside chat” format of the discussions welcomed contributions from Jesper Kristensen, Group Chief Operating Officer, Marine Services DP World, Tiemen Meester, Group COO, Ports & Terminals, DP World, Sue Stevenson, Director of Strategic Partnerships and International Development, Barefoot College International, & Federico Banos-Lindner, Group SVP, Government Relations & Public Affairs, DP World. The chats were facilitated by Lynn Davidson, former Advisor to COP26 President Alok Sharma and included remarks by Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, COP28 Delegation Leader, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Lynn Davidson, Federico Banos-Lindner, & Sue Stevenson
Climate change adaptation and resilience

Having recently worked with Haiti’s UNDP country office on Haiti’s National Adaptation Plan, The Bridge Tank took a special interest in a session on “Climate change, insecurity and mobility in fragile states: A new approach to climate adaptation and peacebuilding” held at the Somalia pavilion and hosted by the UN Environment Programme, the Ministry of Environment of Haiti, the Somali Greenpeace Association, and the UN Climate Security Mechanism.

Building on this theme of adaptation, The Bridge Tank also attended a side event on “Locally led iterative learning and transformative adaptation for enhancing community resilience” organised by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development; hosted by the UNCDF Pavilion.

The COP28 was also the opportunity to follow up on our COP27 side event with Niger’s Agrarian Development Bank on their initiatives to promote rural insurance schemes.

The COP28 Innovation Zone

Last but not least, this year’s Innovation Zone welcomed a wealth of initiatives on innovation, sustainable finance, hydrogen, and agriculture. This proved to be a valuable opportunity to sharpen each others’ minds on upcoming trends.

Seeking peace in a time of rising tensions – A The Bridge Tank & CGTN Dialogue co-production

During last month’s Paris Peace Forum, The Bridge Tank guest-co-produced a special edition CGTN’s flagship talk show Dialogue discussing peace and international cooperation in a context of rising global tensions, echoing the theme of this year’s forum: “Seeking common ground in a world of rivalry.” The conversation explored the nature and causes of rivalry, challenges to peace, and possible avenues of long-term collaboration, notably between the EU and China.

Broadcast from Paris, the show was presented by Dialogue’s anchor Xu Qinduo and Joel Ruet, Chairman of The Bridge Tank and welcomed a curated panel of experts on diplomacy, social organizations, and industry to discuss these topics : 

  • Stéphane Gompertz, former Ambassador to Austria & Ethiopia ; Board Member of The Bridge Tank,
  • Blessing Ibomo, Founder of Bread’s Earth,
  • Jérémie Ni, Director of Chinform.
Rewatch the show
Some of the questions addressed during the show, co-developed by The Bridge Tank & CGTN
  • How is rivalry characterized in today’s world?

  • What are possible common grounds on climate change, cybersecurity as well as conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza, chronic instability in some parts of Africa, humanitarian crises, and the great power rivalry?

  • With all these ongoing crises, the US’s technological containment policy on China, tensions between the EU and China, how can the EU and China find common interests and expand their bilateral cooperation?

  • Can technological cooperation between the EU and China be strengthened without investment, following the derailment of the investment agreement? Can we have investment without trust? Can we have this trust in a world of crisis?

  • Recent crises have seen the United Nations increasingly divided in their votes and responses, with particularly mixed responses arising from the Global South. How do you analyse the alleged rift between the Global South and the West?

  • China recently achieved diplomatic success in the Middle East, brokering the thawing of relations between Saudi Arabia & Iran. At the same time, India announced a new economic corridor connecting India, the Middle East, and Europe during the G20. What role can we foresee for the large emerging powers in the global diplomatic order?

Quotes from our guests
On rivalry

“I think nowadays rivalry and disagreements seem to overshadow the common challenges we’re all facing : long-term challenges like climate change, terrorism, pandemics sometimes. And we tend to forget that beyond all the disputes we can have among our respective countries, we are facing the same challenges for us, for our children and our grandchildren. Those challenges go far beyond our present disagreements.”

Stéphane Gompertz, former Ambassador to Austria & Ethiopia ; Board Member of The Bridge Tank

On the role of emerging powers

“Those emerging powers will play a growing role. Indeed, they can contribute to improving international relations and solving crises. […] They have a large influence and clearly there should be more cooperation among all powers, big or smaller countries in the world to help push things forward. […] The trend is towards a greater role of those emerging countries in world affairs, provided obviously relations remain friendly positive and peaceful, that role can be very useful. Now obviously it depends on the way each country conducts its own policy.

When we see the foolish aggression of Russia against Ukraine, we hope that the present influence of Russia will not be too great.

When the crisis is over, things will be different. We need Russia, Russia is a great country, we’ve always had good relations with Russia. What they’re doing right now is absolutely insane and we hope it won’t last too much. We speak a lot about multipolarization, about a multipolar world which can indeed be very useful. The world should not be dominated by one country but by a cooperation of all countries.”

Stéphane Gompertz, former Ambassador to Austria & Ethiopia ; Board Member of The Bridge Tank

On Africa’s voice being heard

“I think one mistake we do is to classify Africa as one nation. Africa has 54 countries with different national interests. We cannot have one voice representing Africa, it’s impossible. Ukraine, for example, is the basket of bread on which most African countries rely in terms of grain and bread. I think the UN needs to give African countries, not just the African Union, the possibility to really express their voice and hear what they have to say because countries have different economic interests in mind, as well as political interests and historical interests that they have to consider. It’s a complex relationship that needs to be considered within the different African countries.”

Blessing Ibomo, Founder, Bread’s Earth

On technological cooperation

“With China now the leading player in the world for batteries, with 6 out of the 10 biggest battery makers stemming from China, this is a good way for Europe and France, with Stellantis and Renault, to work with the Chinese, to learn from China. And China can also learn from the Europeans. For example in the automotive industry, the French company STMicroelectronics is the leader for chips used in cars. The Chinese can learn from them. When we work together, we can grow together.”

Jérémie Ni, Director of Chinform.

On trust and dependency

“The word trust is quite important. The difficulties we are facing now are explained by a lack of confidence and also a lack of mutual recognition of the rules of the game. An element which can contribute to that, at least on the European side, is the fear of dependency. There is a problem with rare minerals. For example, the Netherlands decided to veto the export of semiconductors to China, who took retaliatory measures and prohibited the export of germanium and gallium to the whole of the EU. These are the kind of measures and counter-measures which can be detrimental. If we could eliminate this fear of dependency, also by encouraging other sources so as to balance our imports, our exports, and the use of minerals, perhaps that trust could appear. But rules of the game on both sides should be clearer.”

Stéphane Gompertz

Summit of Minds 2023: Technological revolution, geopolitics, & sustainable finance

From 15-17 September 2023, the mountain air of the French Alps fuelled creative minds and change makers from around the world who gathered for this year’s Summit of Minds “Stretching Minds – Inspiring Change” in Chamonix. Two of these brilliant minds in attendance were The Bridge Tank’s very own Djellil Bouzidi, Economist & Founder, Emena Advisory, and Pranjal Sharma, Economic analyst & Author of “The Next New – Navigating the Fifth Industrial Revolution”. The Bridge Tank had already taken part in the Summit’s 2021 edition.

Addressing themes ranging across today’s most pressing economic, societal, environmental, technological and geopolitical issues, the Summit of Minds brought together experts, investors, and practitioners to share insights and to collectively explore creative ideas and new solutions.

Pranjal Sharma (centre)
Djellil Bouzidi (right)
Technological revolution in a changing world

During the Summit, our board member Pranjal Sharma explored themes of tech innovation and how to harness it, placing it in the context of changing geopolitical dynamics around the globe. These were topics Mr Sharma previously discussed during The Bridge Tank’s Davos Innovation Lunch 2022 and at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos.

On geo-politics, Pranjal Sharma noted that what is incorrectly perceived by many as a global disorder is in fact a re-ordering of the world in which new geopolitical alignments are challenging the dominance of OECD countries. While legacy economies are struggling to adapt to this changing climate, emerging and developing economies are deepening South-South collaboration, something which will inevitably lead to the acceleration of regional currency (non-dollar) trade with the support of Saudi Arabia, UAE, India and Brazil. The global logistics map will undergo deep changes as new economic corridors like the IMEC were announced between India, Europe and the Middle East during the latest G20 Summit in India.

The technological revolution requires decisive action by governments in terms of control and regulation of technology, Mr Sharma argued. Protecting children and vulnerable communities in the digital world will be one of the – protection of society. But beyond these challenges, the technological revolution will offer a strong positive impact on the improvement of sustainability.

Drawing from his recently published book “The Next New – Navigating the Fifth Industrial Revolution,” Pranjal Sharma highlighted the transformation of business models resulting from the fifth industrial revolution. These are the result of three factors: emerging technologies; the urgency of sustainability; and the need for social equity. This emergence of new business models will generate new revenue streams worth $25 trillion, impacting all companies and industries.

The future of Sustainability-Linked Bonds

In Chamonix, Djellil Bouzidi, Economist, Founder, Emena Advisory and long-time board member of The Bridge Tank sat down with Eoin Murray, Head of Investments, Federated Hermes, UK to discuss sustainability-linked bonds (SLB). One of the first proponents of SLBs having laid out their premises in 2015 and a leading expert on the matter ever since, Mr Bouzidi shed light on these bonds, whose principal, unlike standard green bonds, vary according to the achievement of pre-determined sustainability targets. The discussion addressed SLBs growth in both private markets and from sovereign issuers, while also analysing their environmental effectiveness.

Having advised issuers worldwide and notably the Chilean government for the issuance of the world’s first sovereign SLB in March 2022, Mr Bouzidi has recently been raising the alarm on shortcomings and problematic approaches in the current SLB market threatening these sustainable finance tools’ future viability.

In 2020, Djellil Bouzidi published a seminal article on the matter for the Official Forum of Monetary and Financial Institutions, titled “How climate cuffs could save the planet”.

Concordia Europe Summit: European sovereignty, energy security & transatlantic relations

On 15-16 June 2023, prominent decision makers from across Europe and the world gathered in Madrid, Spain for the 2023 Concordia Europe Summit. Two days of high-level closed-door conversations on the theme of Democracy, Security & Geopolitical Risk addressed some of the most pressing issues facing Europe, including cyber and energy security and diplomatic tools. The Bridge Tank was in attendance at the summit, represented by its president Joel Ruet and board member Raphael Schoentgen, who took part in a session on Europe’s renewable energy transition.

European sovereignty: Climate targets, autonomy & energy security

In the opening session of the Summit, Former European Commission (EC) President José Manuel Barroso testified to the intricate link between establishing binding climate targets and achieving energy security in Europe. Despite the challenges these climate targets represent, the EU 2020 Strategy was achieved by enlarging the problem from its environmental component to energy security, thereby winning over the EU’s new members as the EC launched infrastructure investments, he noted. This is an approach which has also been used by the US and India.

Putting the current discussion on the EU’s strategic autonomy in its geopolitical context, Othmar Karas, First Vice-President of the EU Parliament, noted that Russia’s aggression very much clinched the debate on the EU’s strategic autonomy and sovereignty, as well as on its defence strategy. Mr Karas stated that this debate was led “in a spirit of cooperation with NATO.”

José Manuel Barroso
Othmar Karas
Joel Ruet (left)

Connecting this issue with environmental challenges, this was an opportunity for The Bridge Tank’s president Joel Ruet to engage with the EU Parliament’s First VP on the contribution of the European Green Deal in the EU’s strategic autonomy. Binding policies are indeed only beneficial inasmuch as they are embedded into larger trade-offs. It is therefore important that the EU & US do not lose cooperation for autonomy against illiberal regimes. In particular the short term subsidy war the two blocks are currently engaged in presents a worrying trend, Joel Ruet argued.

In the midst of the new rivalries arising, the next 10 years will be crucial in fine tuning the right PPP inventor/adopter and funding models, Will Roper, Former Assistant Secretary of US Air Force, contended.

During a session on “Pathway to Independence,” Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, former US Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs under President George W Bush, recalled that the US government was also very focused on the ramifications of the war in Ukraine. She acknowledged noticeable moves on nuclear energy and hydrogen in Europe, something also pointed out by other speakers who emphasized the need to work on the supply side of energy security to move towards Europe’s autonomy. This question was also addressed by our board member Raphael Schoentgen during a session on “Europe’s Energy Landscape: Alternatives for the Renewable Transition.”

Ambassador Paula Dobriansky
Raphael Schoentgen (middle)
Transatlantic Diplomacy & Security and the role of Latin America

The question of transatlantic cooperation was a central topic during the Summit. The benefits of a strong and sovereign Europe for the US were highlighted by different panellists, as partnerships benefit from both parties’ strength and confidence.

A session on “Transatlantic Diplomacy & Security: Strengths and Future Opportunities” gathered Former President of Colombia Iván Duque Márquez, Spain’s Minister for Foreign Affairs José Manuel Albares, US Ambassador to Spain Julissa Reynoso, and Radoslava Stefanova from NATO.

According to José Manuel Albares, the transatlantic relationship is very important in the context of Russian aggression. The US is a natural ally of the EU and the transatlantic agenda will be at the heart of Spain’s coming EU presidency, including on the technological agenda, Mr Albares stated. In this process moving towards a Europe of defence and greater integration, the EU also needs to consider having a decision making process based on a qualified majority and not unanimity, he added.

The central role of the transatlantic alliance is also acknowledged on the other side of the Atlantic, Ambassador Reynoso contended, adding that the current President of the United States has been the one to believe in it the most in recent history. Building on this, Radoslava Stefanova reminded the audience that NATO already provides an amount of integration in military systems and procurement based on member countries’ commitments and is therefore working towards convergence.

Iván Duque Márquez addressed the opportunities created by Spain chairing the EU in offering a unifying point between Latin America and the EU. Latin America’s ecosystems are essential in the fight against climate change and the continent is a key player in energy supply, be it oil, gas, and green hydrogen but also in securing the EU’s food security. Additionally, Latin America is facing similar questions to those raised within the EU with regard to how to best approach its relationship with China, particularly in matters of trade.

Iván Duque also raised these issues in a session alongside former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón in which they discussed Latin America’s role in Global Sustainability. Iván Duque particularly highlighted the hypocrisy that makes CO2 worth 50 dollars a ton in Brussels and 5 in the Congo Basin or the Amazon. Felipe Calderon called for a real implementation of the “polluter pays” principle and a reward for absorption at equal price across the planet. “Actually funding capital costs is more important than pledges,” he added.

Transatlantic Diplomacy & Security: Strengths and Future Opportunities
Ivan Duque & Felipe Calderón

T7 Japan Summit – A call for greater collaboration with the Global South and between G7 & G20

With Japan presiding over the G7 in 2023, the organisation’s Think 7 (T7) engagement group with think tanks met in Tokyo from 27-28 April 2023 for its yearly summit, just three weeks before the G7 summit in Hiroshima from 19-21 May. Addressing Crises, Reigniting Sustainable Development, Bridging the G7 and G20 was the theme of this year’s T7 Japan.

A member of the T7 since 2022, The Bridge Tank had taken part in the T7 handover webinar in November 2022 during which Germany had handed over the T7 chairmanship to the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI). The meeting had marked the start of a year during which T7 focussed on “promoting multilateralism and G7 engagement with developing countries to help address global challenges” as well as promoting “inclusive and sustainable growth and development.”

For the past months, T7 Japan discussed and prepared policy recommendations within 4 task forces :

  • Development and Economic Prosperity,
  • Wellbeing, Environmental Sustainability, and Just Transition,
  • Science and Digitalization for A Better Future,
  • Peace, Security, and Global Governance.
T7 recommendations & priorities

The Tokyo Summit from 27-28 April 2023 brought forth the conclusions and recommendations raised by the different T7 task forces for the G7 throughout the first half of 2023. The April 2023 Think7 Japan Communiqué stressed the urgency of:

  1. Addressing intersecting crises: threats to global peace, the rampant international financial crisis and dept crisis, threats to climate and biodiversity and the need to strengthen environmental diplomacy;
  2. Reigniting Agenda 2030 and stressing the centrality of the SDGs as a guiding force for the future;
  3. Investing in Global Science Systems and Research Infrastructure
  4. Fostering greater collaboration between G7/G20.

This call for greater G7/G20 collaboration was also illustrated during the T7 Summit through a session gathering the Chairs of 2022 T7 Germany, 2023 T7 Japan, 2023 T20 India, 2024 T20 Brazil, and 2024 T7 Italy, as both engagement groups expressed their eagerness to  deepen ties.

Greater engagement with the Global South

Ahead of the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, ADBI Dean and T7 Chair Tetsushi Sonobe re-empasised the need for the G7 and its partners to deepen their engagement with developing countries. Such collaboration between the G7 and the Global South would be critical to address intersecting crises and encourage sustainable development, Dean Sonobe added.

The T7’s call for greater engagement with the Global South found an echo at the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, as invitations to take part in the summit were extended to a large community of nations, particularly from the Global South. Invited countries included Brazil, which currently chairs the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, India, which holds the 2023 G20 Presidency, Comoros, which chairs the African Union in 2023, Indonesia, currently chairing the ASEAN, as well as Vietnam, the Cook Islands, South Korea and Australia.

The Bridge Tank during the T7 handover webinar in Nov. 2022

The Bridge Tank partners with the Technology for Change Days 2023 of École Polytechnique

From April 4 to 6, the Technology for Change Days 2023 were held in Paris, organized by the Chair “Technology for Change” of École Polytechnique. Joël Ruet, President, The Bridge Tank, spoke at the Opening Conference on April 4, in a session on water access and the preservation of water resources as a sustainable development issue.

The mission of the Technology for Change Conference is to assess the current state of affairs regarding the links between technology, society and industry in order to explore different approaches and perspectives for technological development and innovation that contribute to a more sustainable and inclusive world. The conference kicked off on April 4, 2023 with a session titled “Water access: management and preservation – What are the current strategies and the challenges to overcome to place water at the center of sustainable development issues?” which gathered:

  • Pilar Acosta – Professor of Management Science, École polytechnique, IP Paris
  • Joël Ruet – Economist, CNRS Researcher, École polytechnique, IP Paris & President of The Bridge Tank
  • Marie-Laure Vercambre – Managing Director of the French Water Partnership

The session addressed some of the major issues and challenges surrounding water in our world today: what are the current strategies for managing access to water? for preserving access to water? What is the situation at the international level? How can water be placed at the center of sustainable development issues? To what extent is technology a lever to meet these challenges?

Marie-Laure Vercambre started by recalling the current context of global water crisis, with demand that is bound to grow by 1% per year until 2050. Agenda 2030 and Goal 6 of the UN SDGs summarise the many challenges in water resources management and conservation: access to drinking water, sanitation, water quality, rational use, integrated management of water resources, transboundary issues, governance, preservation of ecosystems, etc. The transversality of water issues presents a major challenge due to the silo mentality of the different users. Such an approach is not appropriate for the management of a common good but is difficult to inflect. Joël Ruet underlined that the organization of practices should be based on 3 axes: 1) optimization of the resource, 2) preservation/conservation by considering water and its ecosystems, 3) renaturation.

Technology is an important lever to meet these many diverse challenges: water transport, desalination, water treatment, or reuse. Responding to these challenges also requires more spatio-temporal data, for which technological tools are needed. Joël Ruet thus also reminded the audience of the importance of preserving the headsprings and headwaters of rivers. This is a major challenge since these are most often found in more remote areas. Taking the example of the Fouta Djallon Highlands in Guinea, a mountainous region home to the sources of some of West Africa’s largest rivers but threatened by the effects of climate change and demographic pressure, Joël Ruet illustrated this transversality of the actions required to preserve water resources. Such actions impact farming and forestry methods, agroforestry, as well as the need to create local data. The incubation of local start-ups is an interesting field of action to support the development of this technology and the data necessary for conservation action. These could also be mobilized for green finance mechanisms, as they need data to measure the impact of the transformational change they aim to fund.

The Fouta Djallon Highlands: A call to action & a roadmap for preservation presented at the United Nations

The Fouta Djallon Highlands – the water tower of West Africa – are dying. These forested highlands in Guinea are home to the headwaters of some of West Africa’s largest rivers, e.g. the Senegal River, the Gambia River, and the Niger River. This jewel of nature provides water to a region of nearly 300 million people. Faced with the urgency of the accelerating degradation of the Fouta Djallon’s fragile ecosystems, The Bridge Tank, Initiatives for the Future of Great Rivers (IFGR) and the Senegal River Basin Development Organization (OMVS) joined forces to alert the international community and present a roadmap for action at the United Nations 2023 Water Conference in New York.

On March 24, The Bridge Tank, IFGR, and OMVS organized an official side event on “The Fouta Djallon: Visions & Actions to Safeguard the Water Tower of West Africa” with the official support of France and Guinea, represented respectively by Bérangère Couillard, Secretary of State for Ecology of France and by the Chief of Staff of Aly Seydouba Soumah, Minister of Energy, Hydraulics and Hydrocarbons, Republic of Guinea. The side event was organized in partnership with the French Development Agency (AFD), the French Water Partnership (PFE), the International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO), and the Geneva Water Hub.

Structure of the session:

  • Opening addresses by Bérangère Couillard, Secretary of State for Ecology of France, Erik Orsenna, President, Initiatives for the Future of Great Rivers (IFGR) & member of the Académie française, and Joël Ruet, President, The Bridge Tank
  • Presentation and assessment of the challenges facing the Fouta Djallon by Soufiana Dabo, Coordinator for Guinea, OMVS and Abderahim Bireme Hamid, Executive Secretary, Niger Basin Authority (NBA)
  • The role of river basin organizations and ongoing actions by Lionel Goujon, Head of the Water and Sanitation Division of the French Development Agency (AFD)
  • An action plan and a discussion on the solutions to safeguard the Fouta Djallon.

Rewatch the recording of the session on our YouTube channel (in French with English subtitles).

Erik Orsenna, Bérangère Couillard & Joël Ruet
Bérangère Couillard
Opening addresses at the United Nations Headquarters

Confirming France’s support for this UN side event moderated by Sophie Gardette, Director, IFGR, Bérangère Couillard, Secretary of State for Ecology, France opened the session with an address to the panel.

In her speech, Ms. Couillard introduced the importance of preserving the Fouta Djallon Highlands and their unique ecosystem in order to protect West Africa’s largest rivers, emphasizing at the same time the interdependence between the preservation of ecosystems and the availability of water, both in quantity and quality. Secretary of State Couillard also praised the work of the region’s river basin organizations, particularly OMVS, and their role in integrated water resources management at the level of transboundary basins.

This was an opportunity to remind the audience of France’s role in the development and promotion of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and to encourage a multi-sectoral approach, reconciling all stakeholders drawing on the resources of the Fouta Djallon and impacting its ecosystems. In conclusion, Ms. Couillard recalled the importance of the Water Convention and praised the pioneering role of Senegal and Chad, which were some of the first countries outside Europe to join the Convention.

Erik Orsenna
Bérangère Couillard & Joël Ruet
Erik Orsenna – The water cycle and the life cycle

As co-host and co-organizer of this event, Erik Orsenna, President, Initiatives fur the Future of Great Rivers (IFGR) & member of the Académie française, issued a call to action to preserve the forest and river ecosystems of Fouta Djallon. Faced with the complexity and elusive diversity of water, “most essential of all resources,” Mr. Orsenna stressed the importance of using concrete characters and stories to convey the challenges of water resources management and preservation.

Rivers, and in particular the great rivers Senegal, Gambia, and Niger in the case of Fouta Djallon, form this unity of life, these living characters whose stories can be told. Quoting one of his predecessors at the French Academy, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Mr. Orsenna thus noted that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” Biological health, economic health and social health are thus closely intertwined.

This unity of the cycle of water and the cycle of life is also found in Africa: 60% of the drinking water consumed in Dakar and 100% of that consumed in Nouakchott come from the Senegal River. Erik Orsenna also got to experience another theorem when he visited the shores of Lake Chad in Niger: “the less water there is in Lake Chad, the more terrorists there are.” “And it is for these two reasons that we decided to raise the alarm on the Fouta because the Fouta is the source of all this life in West Africa,” Erik Orsenna concluded.

Joël Ruet – Experiences from the field

Offering an account of his trip to the Fouta Djallon with Hamed Semega, former High Commissioner of the OMVS, Joël Ruet, President, The Bridge Tank & economist at the Interdisciplinary Institute of Innovation i3t, CNRS, began his address by paying tribute to Mr. Semega, with whom he went on this field trip and who was the first high commissioner to visit the sources of the Senegal River. The field mission revealed that the men and women, local populations living near the springs, were also suffering from the lack of water. Where there are only picturesque puddles left today, 10 or 15 years ago, these same pools were big enough for an adult to drown in. “It is now a matter of turning a vicious circle into a virtuous circle,” Joel Ruet said, adding that “the solutions are with the people, with the local communities, and it is our moral and human responsibility as an international community to help and support them in their initiatives.”

Joel Ruet & Soufiana Dabo
An agonizing Fouta Djallon

Soufiana Dabo, Coordinator for Guinea, OMVS, described the context of the Fouta Djallon before recalling the challenges and threats facing these highlands which are home to the sources of the Senegal River, the Gambia River, the Niger River and other smaller rivers. This mountainous territory in the north of the Republic of Guinea and extending towards Senegal, Mali and Guinea-Bissau is found at altitudes ranging between a little over 500 and 1515 meters, culminating on Mount Loura. The unique ecosystem of Fouta Djallon is now endangered and many endemic species, both fauna and flora, are growing rare.

The region is inhabited by sedentary farmers and herders whose activities coexist. However, demographic pressure has driven people closer to water sources in order to meet the growing need for water for agriculture and for the daily consumption of both communities and livestock. This growing pressure on sources has led to a decrease in the available water quantity but also to the degradation of riverbanks, impacting both Guinea upstream and the countries and 300 million people living downstream.

Abderahim Bireme Hamid, Executive Secretary, Niger Basin Authority (NBA), also noted additional degradation on the highlands inflicted by man. These include, for example, the production of baked bricks, excessive logging, and mining, particularly traditional gold mining.

The reduction of vegetation cover and the degradation of soils – a consequence of overgrazing and agricultural practices inappropriate to the demographic context, such as slash-and-burn agriculture and the reduction of the time these lands lie fallow have also contributed to the fragility of Fouta Djallon. These unsustainable agricultural and forestry practices reduce the forest cover and dry out the soil, threatening the stability of the ecosystems of the Fouta Djallon. These dynamics accelerate desertification and the silting up of waterways and of their springs, thereby also reducing the absorption capacity of soils. The threat is also environmental, since climate change affects the rainfall and the particular microclimate of Fouta Djallon, with temperatures constantly rising.

“Together we must mobilize our actions, efforts, awareness, and knowledge around what needs to be done now to restore this ecosystem […], to raise people’s awareness but also to allow them to continue their activities without being in conflict with nature,” Mr. Dabo concluded.

“If we do not act proactively to change the situation and to revive the Fouta Djallon highlands, the risk will impact all of these countries (the 9 member states of the NBA) and all of these populations in Africa,” Mr. Hamid concluded.

River basin organizations at the heart of preservation efforts

Lionel Goujon, Head of the Water and Sanitation Division of the French Development Agency (AFD) presented the existing preservation and sustainable management initiatives as well as the actions already carried out in the field by the AFD. These have been developed and carried out in partnership with the various basin organizations of the region. The presence of senior officials of these basin organizations, with Mr. Soufiana Dabo for the OMVS, an organization that AFD has been supporting for about 40 years, and Mr. Abderahim Bireme Hamid for the NBA, with which AFD has been collaborating for about 20 years, illustrated the investment and the central role of these organizations in the management of water resources and the preservation of the region’s ecosystems.

It is about avoiding the tragedy of the commons and the unfolding tragedy of Fouta Djallon, Mr. Goujon stated, referencing Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009. The challenges in the conservation efforts are numerous: lack of knowledge about the declining resource and its ecosystem, lack of measurements, and lack of data on the consequences of ongoing hydrological changes, as well as the need for new technologies and human resources and devices to maintain measurement networks.

AFD’s action in partnership with basin organizations is structured around projects such as the SCREEN project with OMVS, a project of altimetric measurements with satellite technologies in collaboration with French actors like CNR, IRD, BRL, and CNES. The DYNOBA project for the revitalization of transboundary basin organizations in Africa encourages the sharing of experiences between basin organizations. The Fouta Djallon could be a field of application of this exchange. AFD is also currently working on a project to support Guinea’s national meteorological services to strengthen national meteorology and produce more reliable data.

“There are several levels to work on: institutional, international, national, and local with the populations in order to have a beneficial impact on this region,” Mr. Goujon concluded.

An action plan for the Fouta Djallon

The objective of this side event was not only to alert the international community on the alarming situation of a dying Fouta Djallon but also to present an action plan and the key avenues of action for the preservation of the highlands. Joel Ruet, President, The Bridge Tank & economist at the Interdisciplinary Institute of Innovation i3t, CNRS presented some essential features of such an action plan.

  1. Supporting and mobilizing local communities by establishing a catalogue and an academy of durable best practices, combining both traditional and modern agricultural and ecosystem preservation methods, e.g. resilient agroforestry, to raise awareness and train local populations;
  2. Fostering local and regional research and innovation to increase knowledge and data of the Fouta Djallon’s resources and ecosystems. This will be achieved by establishing and supporting incubators of technological startups, supporting academic research projects, local environmental engineering, and the development of nature-based solutions;
  3. Fostering political will and regional cooperation by creating an assembly of West African states, RBOs, and multilateral organizations, backed by the international community, for the Fouta Djallon to develop a regional cooperation framework around this common resource and ensure social, societal, and environmental sustainability in the highlands and across the region;
  4. Mobilising new green finance mechanisms in support of the Fouta Djallon by establishing a green-blue bond dedicated for the preservation of biodiversity and the development of the highlands with international support.

In the continuity of the actions already implemented, concerted action across the sub-region to preserve the Fouta Djallon will have to involve basin organizations. The issue of governance was also highlighted by Lionel Goujon, who advocated for a governance at different levels, involving basin organizations, states and sub-regional economic communities. “There is a need to create coalitions and cooperation platforms today,” Joël Ruet stressed, which will necessarily involve local communities, in order to determine which traditional methods need to evolve and what traditional knowledge can be mobilized as more sustainable and resilient farming or agroforestry methods. According to Soufiana Dabo, the priority is to adapt and rethink existing solutions.

A tool which will play an important role in this process is the Fouta Djallon Observatory set up by the OMVS. According to Mr. Dabo, it will allow to observe, analyze and act in the Fouta Djallon. Soufiana Dabo took the opportunity to call for support of the Observatory as a center of research, reflection and data collection necessary for the evolution of the highlands. This evolution aims at accompanying the communities in their transition, either towards other activities that will have less impact on the ecosystem of the highlands, or to modernize current practices and activities undertaken by local populations. Within the framework of its IWRM programs, OMVS has launched the first initiatives in this direction, including agricultural development projects and the establishment of irrigated and fenced areas to settle the population. The rehabilitation of fish reserves hopes to turn fishing into an alternative source of income.

“We must not oppose socio-economic and human development to nature and the environment,” Joël Ruet insisted.

Finally, a last community that needs to be mobilized are the young graduates of the region’s universities. Mr. Ruet emphasized the importance of local technological entrepreneurship. The support of incubators of young local entrepreneurs returning to the field after their studies would provide the human resources to sustain the measurement and data collection systems necessary for all preservation efforts. This data can also be mobilized for sustainable finance mechanisms that enable, according to Mr. Ruet, “transformational changes going to scale.”

This session is part of The Bridge Tank’s long-standing commitment to the preservation of the Fouta Djallon. At the World Water Forum in Dakar in March 2022, The Bridge Tank and IFGR had already co-organized a session on the issue of safeguarding the Fouta Djalon highlands, in partnership with OMVS and Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du Fleuve Gambie (OMVG). Previously, Joel Ruet, President, The Bridge Tank, had also participated in a field mission in the Fouta Djalon led by our board member Hamed Semega, then High Commissioner of OMVS.

CGTN – Joel Ruet discusses China-EU relations and Chinese growth during Boao Forum 2023

During this year’s Boao Forum for Asia 2023, Joel Ruet, President of The Bridge Tank, spoke with CGTN on three occasions, discussing Chinese PM Li Qiang’s speech during the forum and sharing his insights on current dynamics in EU-China relations.

In a first interview, Joel Ruet shared his analysis of Chinese PM Li Qiang’s speech during the forum’s opening ceremony. Mr Ruet noted that the speech “stressed continuity” in China’s economic policies & growth, presenting it as an “area of certainty” in a world of uncertainty. The role of Chinese growth in global growth will however require caution in the coming 2 years, as the past year saw a slight dip in domestic and foreign investments, which will most likely impact future growth. As noted by Joel Ruet, PM Li Qiang’s speech acknowledged the need for continued foreign investments to balance this out.

In a second interview, Joel Ruet gave a short overview of current dynamics in EU-China partnership, competition, and rivalry, noting the role of values for both the EU and China in the structuring of their relationship.

Finally, Joel Ruet sat down with CGTN’s Xu Qinduo on CGTN Dialogue to discuss China-EU relations ahead of French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s visits to China.

The Bridge Tank at BOAO Forum for Asia 2023: Advancing EU-China cooperation and energy transitions

From 28 to 31 March 2023, The Bridge Tank, represented by its president Joël Ruet, took part in the BOAO Forum for Asia 2023, in Boao, Hainan, China. The Bridge Tank has taken part in the annual meeting of the “Chinese Davos” as a partner of the event since 2018. This year’s BOAO Forum was placed under the theme “An Uncertain World: Solidarity and Cooperation for Development amid Challenges.”

The Forum saw Joël Ruet take part in two sessions dedicated to the China-EU dialogue, with a closed-door CEO roundtable, and a panel session on global energy supply shocks, both concretely addressing energy transitions. The forum’s plenary session provided contributions from Chinese Premier Li Qiang, former UN Secretary General and now chair of the forum Ban Ki Moon, as well as Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, and Pedro Sanchez, Prime Minister of Spain, addressing future relations between China and the EU and the potential for partnerships.

China-EU CEO closed-door Dialogue

The roundtable which Joël Ruet took part in addressed questions and opportunities of cooperation and competition in a context of systemic rivalry. The session allowed for interaction between industry captains from France, Italy, Finland, Hungary, & Germany and their Chinese counterparts. These notably included:

  • Justin Yifu Lin, Dean of Institute of New Structural Economics, Peking University & former Chief Economist and former Senior Vice President of the World Bank
  • Li Zixue, Chairman and Executive Director, ZTE Corp
  • Zhang Yue, Chairman, BROAD Group
  • Li Yong, Chairman, Chinayong Investment Group
  • Joël RUET, Chairman, The Bridge Tank & Associate Researcher, Tech for Change Chair Ecole Polytechnique
  • Jorge Toledo, Ambassador of the European Union to China
  • Denis Depoux, Global Managing Director, Roland Berger
  • Norbert Csizmadia, President, John von Neumann University Foundation
  • Gianni Di Giovanni, Chairman, ENI China B.V. & Executive Vice President, ENI
  • Fabrizio Ferri, Head of Asia Pacific Region, Fincantieri

Joël Ruet’s participation to this roundtable allowed him to convey the current situation and opportunities in matters of energy transitions, particularly around nuclear power and hydrogen. Reflecting on current trends, Mr Ruet noted that in 2022, the EU’s transition found a winning long term hedging strategy based on geographically hedged gas instead of oil, with a 2030 horizon hedging against all fossil fuels.

On matters of climate finance, Joël Ruet argued that financial mechanisms had to go beyond carbon pricing and beyond mitigation finance. Instead, adaptation must be financed through cobenefits on agriculture, agro-forestry, CO2 fixation in soils and water preservation. This requires a joint effort to build a finance and banking derisking industry both at the level of public and commercial banks. China and the EU have a common interest in not only sharing ideas and models but also in building joint programs with least developed countries, Mr Ruet argued.

In a subsequent interview for China Business News, Joël Ruet stressed the importance of these types of roundtables, as “business decisions are based on this kind of relationship and understanding between people.”

Global Energy Supply Shock Roundtable

On March 30th, Joël Ruet sat down with senior Chinese and international executives and experts for a roundtable discussion on the current energy supply and demand structure. The discussion touched on how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reshaped Europe’s energy supply landscape and how the global energy structure has evolved since, taking into account sanctions imposed on Russia and production restriction policies adopted by oil producing countries in the Middle East. The session also tackled how to maintain the stability of the international energy market and what the implications of these changes are on energy transitions efforts around the world.

The session moderated by ZHONG Shi, CGTN Anchor, was joined by :

  • Denis DEPOUX, Global Managing Director, Roland Berger
  • Gianni Di GIOVANNI, Chairman, ENI China B.V. & Executive Vice President, ENI
  • MENG Zhenping, Chairman, China Southern Power Grid
  • Joël RUET, Chairman, The Bridge Tank & Associate Researcher, Tech for Change Chair Ecole Polytechnique
  • Ernie THRASHER, Director, Xcoal Energy & Resources
  • ZHONG Baoshen, Chairman, Longi

According to Joël Ruet, the energy crisis is an opportunity to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of current energy structures, what is resilient, and what is most affected by these shocks. “We should turn the crisis into an opportunity,” Mr Ruet stated, adding that “in the energy transition, we must be inclusive and united.” What is stirking in the EU’s response over the last year is that it was not just a short term shock answer but that it paves the way to structural acceleration in energy transition, notably on pure renewables or gas. The fact that various countries have various energy strategies on nuclear as renewable or hydrogen uses or mobility engines hasn’t prevented quantum jumps in taxonomy and serves a positive complement thus hedging in European energy transitions.

Takeaways from the plenary session

BOAO Forum’s plenary session saw leaders from all around the world taking the stage to discuss current affairs. After stressing that “Russian agression has undermined the world order,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong insisted that beyond building strong relations with China, Asian countries needed to mesh with one another, highlighting ASEAN’s centrality. Praising the RCEP and trans pacific dynamics, PM Lee called for Asia to always remain an open region building partnerships.

Pedro Sanchez, Prime Minister of Spain, stated that in its upcoming capacity assuming the presidency of the EU, Spain wants to contribute to peace and trust rebuilding. The country wants to focus on having a renewed approach to globalization, one mindful of its environmental footprint and stability, moving beyond sole cost preoccupations. The EU is therefore building a new green and digital industry and will defend its values and interests. China and the EU, though competitors, can also remain partners as far as the sovereignty of countries is respected and a level playing field on competition is upheld. According to PM Sanchez, China and the EU must remain partners economically but also and most importantly work together on reaching the objectives set in the Paris agreement, the SDGs, and providing finance for development and debt risks for developing countries.

BOAO Chair Ban Ki Moon
Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong
Spain PM Pedro Sanchez
Chinese Premier Li Qiang

Joel Ruet also attended Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s address to BOAO forum delegates. In his speech, Premier Li stated that “without peace, Asia won’t have a bright future,” before adding that “the many issues facing humanity must be addressed through consensus.” To do so, Li Qiang emphasized the role of BRICS countries in enforcing a multilateral rule of law, qualifying as “more just and equitable” than the existing UN system.

Li Qiang stated that “in an uncertain world, China’s way to prosperity is an anchor of certainty,” stressing the importance of China’s growth for developing countries in general and for Asia and the global economy. China’s path forward will “continue the effort of deepening the demand while structuring the supply side in a way that is favourable to foreign investment.”

It is however to be recalled that investments reached a low in 2022 due to China’s zero covid policy, which will have an impact on economic results in the coming two years and weakened foreign confidence in the Chinese market. This short term cycle will have to be absorbed, with medium term prospect looking more encouraging and serving as a transition while the demographic window of opportunity is closing.

Watch Joel Ruet’s analysis of Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s speech for CGTN:

Hydro-diplomacy: Proceedings of our side event at the UN 2023 Water Conference

During the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York, The Bridge Tank and Initiatives for the Future of Great River coorganized an official side event on hydro-diplomacy “Towards an inclusive, pre-emptive, and positive hydro-diplomacy”, on March 23rd. Here is a deep dive into the discussions and insights shared during the panel discussion: from hydro-diplomacy as a method of preventing conflicts, how to best approach the resource, fostering integration and inter-sectoral cooperation, the role of the UN Watercourses Convention, the need for greater inclusion, and much more.

For our short summary of the session, click here.

Opening the session which he moderated, Joel Ruet, President, The Bridge Tank, explained the rationale of this session aiming to expand the discussion and practice of hydro-diplomacy to a diversity of actors, water practitioners, researchers, and businesses. Building on Georges Clémenceau’s idea that “war is too serious a matter to leave to soldiers,” hydro-diplomacy is likewise too serious a matter to be left to diplomats alone. A renewed hydro-diplomacy ought to rely on a renewed look at water resources, discussing how to best approach them, be it as a common good or as a public good.

As keynote speaker of the session, the side event was opened by Minister Mirela Kumbaro Furxhi, Minister of Tourism and Environment, Republic of Albania. In her address, Minister Kumbaro Furxhi presented the case of the Vjosa River, which was recently declared the first wild river national park in Europe and which has the ambition of becoming a transboundary park with neighbouring Greece in the coming years.

Pre-emptive hydro-diplomacy for a long lasting peace

Hydro-diplomacy’s role in sustaining and building peace was at the centre of this side event. Christian Bréthaut, Scientific Director, Geneva Water Hub, addressed this idea of conflict prevention as building “long lasting peace.” His organisation – the Geneva Water Hub – approaches peace not only as the absence of conflicts but very much as active prevention and anticipation of possible conflicts arising. Examples from West Africa have for example shown that there are many different ways to conduct this prevention work, through dialogue platforms but also institutional set up.

Another key aspect of prevention and the achievement of long lasting peace is notably also found in the redistribution of benefits and of socio-economic development across an entire river basin, as numerous negative examples exist of dams being built and electricity lines going to the capital while local communities are being neglected. Such development practices only help fuel tensions and the emergence of violence at the local level.

Echoing this idea, Erik Orsenna, President, Initiatives for the Future of Great Rivers, noted that hydro-diplomacy is not only a matter of preventing conflicts between different nations but more and more a method to prevent conflicts within one country. Mr Orsenna also noted the steep rise in conflicts and tensions having water as a cause, citing examples from the Euphrates, Tigris, Israel & Palestine, the Nile but also Bangladesh and the Mekong.

Erik Orsenna, Christian Bréthaut, & Suvi Sojamo
Marie-Laure Vercambre & Joel Ruet
A renewed look at the resource for greater integration

River deltas are regions particularly at threat, with 600 million people living in deltas worldwide, threatened by the actions of countries upstream, Mr Orsenna continued. If the river giving life to the delta is not considered a common good, then people living in deltas will continue to be at threat, Mr Orsenna stated.

Water is tricky to categorize when it comes to being a common good or a public good, as it always finds itself a little in between the two, Mr Bréthaut noted. The nature of the resource is indeed a common pool resource but there are then different ways to approach and manage it. According to Mr Bréthaut, the literature highlights this “tragedy of the commons” as there is a higher risk of over-exploitation, rivalries between uses, and possible conflicts emerging for a common pool resource like water. However, a different approach sees water as an opportunity for stakeholders to come together and find solutions by getting organised together.

This organisation of stakeholders and its inter-sectoral dynamics must consider two dimensions, so Christian Bréthaut argued:

  1. horizontal integration across different sectors, moving out of existing silos to manage complex trade-offs,
  2. vertical integration bridging gaps between different narratives existing across basins, between farmers and national authorities for example, to avoid misunderstandings and internal tensions. This requires building platforms for these different narratives to interact and connect the different issues, making each case and narrative visible.

According to Mr Bréthaut, a key in this process of dialogue and integration is therefore found in intermediary platforms, what Claude Ménard, renowned Canadian economist who theorized the new institutional economics, called meso-institutions. Institutions like the Senegal River Basin Development Organization, a River Basin Organization, not only link across borders but also allow for dialogue across different institutional levels.

The geographic dimension of this process of integration and the development of meso-institutions was also addressed by Marie-Laure Vercambre, General Director, French Water Partnership. Since the 1960s, the French School’s approach to managing water resources has taken the hydrographic basin as its basic geographic unit. The river basin has thus been determined as being the best territorial unit to manage rivers, groundwaters, territories and the people living on them. France’s approach to hydro-diplomacy has thus relied on the principles of integrated water resources management (IWRM) the country has developed internally, acting at the basin level and involving all its stakeholders in its sustainable use and governance model, e.g. the industry, agricultural sector, cities and local authorities, with a level of public governance providing allocation and arbitrage with the common good in mind.

The UN Watercourses Convention as foundation and shared language

While the concept of IWRM is widely accepted nowadays and provides the foundation for many RBOs, Marie-Laure Vercambre noted that 5 years ago, only 40% of transboundary basins did benefit from a transboundary agreement at basin level. Out of those, 80% were either obsolete or did not involve all the countries within the basin under scrutiny. Despite the diversity of existing models around the globe, it therefore still appears to be important to have one common treaty as foundation Joel Ruet argued, before turning to Alyssa Offutt, Researcher, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education.

The UN Watercourses Convention was indeed established in 1997, being complemented by the UNECE Water Convention which was initially quite regional, Ms Offutt stated. The Convention provides the shared language and the framework of the different principles and standards which can then be used and taken into different agreements, specific to each basin. An example for that is the Convention’s “obligation not to cause significant harm,” which means that when there is cooperation within basins, upstream countries should for example not be causing harm downstream. How “harm” and “significant” are defined can however be adapted into each agreement by using that shared foundation. This can be codified in agreements, or built into existing RBOs and other processes, Ms Offutt noted.

Alyssa Offutt & Clémence Aubert
Suvi Sojamo and the panel
Inclusion and societal adaption

But certain aspects are arguably missing, as the Convention negotiated in the 90s makes no mention of vertical integration, as inclusivity and the integration of different people and perspectives in transboundary water cooperation was not an important aspect in comparison to today’s standards. The transboundary waters treaty of 1909 negotiated between the US and Canada did for example not include the indigenous sovereign territories along the border. Opening the discussion to other voices is therefore quite a recent process, acknowledging the need to empower people to speak for the river. The rise of new narratives and legal frameworks like the legal personhood of rivers reflects those changing dynamics. This process still requires the adaption of existing frameworks and agreements, Ms Offutt argued.

While, as Mr Ruet and Mr Bréthaut later commented, one might have assumed that the adaptation required was primarily concerned with changing hydrological, geophysical, and environmental data, as water uses have evolved and the climate changed, the required adaptation is also very much due to societal and hydro-political changes, which reflects the place of rivers in our societies but also how our societies and our understanding of rivers has evolved. As concluded by Ms Offutt, the Conventions give us the starting point to conduct those changes on both levels.

Connecting track 1 & track 2 diplomacy: Finland’s approach to hydro-diplomacy

One country which has played a crucial role in hydro-diplomacy and in the initiation, adoption and ratification of the Water Convention around the world is Finland. Suvi Sojamo, Senior Research Scientist, Finnish Environment Institute, & Senior Advisor, Water Cooperation and Peace – Finnish Water Way introduced some of the specificities of Finland’s multi-track approach to hydro-diplomacy.

Bridging gaps between different narratives has been a key component of Finland’s approach, as its multi-track approach aims to have water experts aiding decision making processes, thereby creating a bridge between the diplomatic peace mediation community and the water expert community. This approach connecting track 1 and track 2 diplomacy is the foundation of Finland’s water governance and cross-sectoral collaboration model.

As a relatively small country, Finland enjoys very low silos, strong cross-sectoral collaboration and low hierarchies, Ms Sojamo noted, which has offered a good starting point for Finland’s model. While acknowledging that water issues are always context dependent and that this model may not be replicated elsewhere in the same way, the country has been sharing its experiences and example of internal organization internationally. Echoing the idea that the Water Convention provides the foundational set of principles and framework on which to build new models, Suvi Sojamo highlighted the fact that Finland has used the UNECE Convention and the application of its basic principles as the cornerstone of its actions in support of other countries.

Clémence Aubert (middle)
Companies as contributors to hydro-diplomacy

Inclusivity also means mobilising and involving companies and private sector actors. When trying to accompany the decision making process of countries to ratify the UN Watercourses Convention, economic actors can play an extremely important role, Marie-Laure Vercambre noted, as countries want to make sure that this will have a positive economic impact. The example of Patagonia, an American company actively involved in the process of making the Vjosa River a national park goes to show that businesses can contribute to building transboundary agreements, ensure sustainable and peaceful co-management of water resources, and be active participants of hydro-diplomacy. As mentioned by Alyssa Offutt, this is all the more relevant in times where companies become more socially and environmentally conscious.

The example of the Compagnie Nationale du Rhône (CNR) presented by Clémence Aubert, Head of Strategic Management, CNR, offers a model in which a single private operator is entrusted with the integrated water resources management of a river basin, in this case the Rhone River, building on France’s long-standing approach. The CNR was founded with three missions: the production and selling of electricity, the development of navigation and transport on the watercourse, and the irrigation of farmlands. A fourth mission was added later on, namely environmental and biodiversity preservation, in addition to leisure and cultural activities around the river.

To ensure the aforementioned intersectoral integration, the CNR has had to act in consultation with all the stakeholders for each one of its projects. The notion of redistribution mentioned by Christian Bréthaut as a prerequisite for long lasting peace is also inscribed in the CNR’s model, as its contract with public authorities foresees redistribution of part of its benefits to local territories, which ensures the involvement of all stakeholders in protecting the resource, as they all benefit from its durability. The model has proven its resilience, as the Rhone’s run-of-river dams have allowed to continue to provide water for farmlands, drinking water, and sustained navigation even during periods of droughts.

Going one step further than conservation, the CNR has also been engaged in a huge project of renaturation which has already restored 120 kilometers of the Rhone’s watercourse by reconnecting the river to wetlands and re-allowing the free flow of sediments which had been blocked by past constructions.


In the closing round of the session, participants expressed optimism about the future, as the Conference reflected and built on an increasing momentum to address the issue of freshwater. Marie-Laure Vercambre noted that the Conference offered reasons to be optimistic, as it proved increasing maturity among the water community but also among decision makers. New ratifications of the UN Watercourses Convention were another encouraging sign. While the risk of conflicts over water is indeed on the rise, there is a counter dynamic that sees cooperation and awareness of the risk of not cooperating spreading. Greater inclusion, potential for dialogue, inter-sectoral and multi-stakeholder cooperation are indeed needed but recent years have shown positive trends, with greater understanding and awareness of the complexity of the water question slowly taking hold.

To watch the full session:

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