Dr. Lučka Kajfež Bogataj: “To avoid conflicts, we should agree on energy and water”
Slovenia has been in an uproar recently in response to the EU Water Framework Directive on the management of water resources, which manages the granting of concessions and allows the flow of private capital into the water sector. In preparation for the panel discussion on International Water Day, the United Nations Association of Slovenia (UNAS) sat down with Prof. Dr. Lučka Kajfež Bogataj to discuss the impact of the directive in Slovenia and the importance of water management, especially when taking climate change into consideration.
Dr. Kajfež Bogataj is the Head of the Centre for Agricultural Meteorology at the Biotechnical Faculty of University of Ljubljana and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. The UNA Slovenia Youth Section representatives talked with her during a press conference where she introduced her new book “Hot New World”, in which she warns about the role of the individual and points out the environmental awareness as an important part of an individual’s personal integrity.
What will be the impact of the EU Water Framework on the privatization of water resources in Slovenia?
First, I would like to substitute the commonly used phrase “privatization of water” with the phrase “commercialization of water”. The directive cannot be assessed negatively, since it involves elements regulating the granting of concessions and greater transparency while also allowing states to manage their water resources. On the other hand, the directive exhibits a need for concessional rights, as if it was the only way of regulating water management. Slovenia’s attitude towards the directive is also problematic. The directive affects everyone. We are all consumers of water: everyone pays for it, and no one can live without it. That is why one would expect to see at least a minimal level of public debate in Slovenia before the adoption of the Directive – which we haven’t had. Such public debate may not even be necessary under normal social circumstances, but due to high levels of mistrust and lack of public debate in the field, as well as in the public, there is a widespread sentiment that the directive is full of traps.
In your opinion, what will be the consequences of the directive on the European level?
The directive is not necessarily bad, and it may not have any consequences on the European level. Currently, we are organizing the management of water resources on the state level. In Slovenia, at the moment, concessions are awarded on the municipal level, and the results have been mixed. With the new directive, we will have to clearly determine how to govern the granting of concessions. Will the granting of concessions be transparent? Will it include civil society? Will contracts be made public? Will profits be accurately disclosed? Or will decisions be made in smaller circles? That is why this a momentous occasion that can initiate public debate and in which participatory democracy can flourish on an important issue such as water.
The second part of our questions refers to climate change. In view of the trend of climate change, we are curious about the future consequences in the area of water and drinking water.
That is precisely why it seems interesting or even fatal coincidence that the European directive appears exactly at the time when all the international institutions acknowledge the problem of water sources as one the first and most urgent in the context of climate change. Because of the growing population and the more luxurious lifestyle, even without the climate change, we would need almost 50 percent more water by 2030. Additionally, climate change strongly affects the distribution of the rainfall. The whole world warms itself but the amount of water in the world won’t change. We have a few fortunate areas where the water will appear in larger amounts (in Europe e.g. Scandinavia and parts of Russia; on the global level e.g. parts of the United States and Argentina), and parts of the Earth where there will be less water (e.g. Mediterranean, Brazil, China). Here, I mean the water in the sense of rainfall, which is a source of drinking water on a long term. Additional to climate change is the problem of glacier melting. The melting will cause even more water in the rivers beneath them in the first ten to fifteen years, so when the glaciers disappear, also the flow of drinking water will be gone which presents a catastrophe for example in Asia.
Do you believe the drinking water is a geostrategic raw material that is becoming a principal source for the creation of the crisis areas (such as Palestine and Sudan)?
The actual linking of the national security and climate change finds expression right in the area of water. In order to avoid conflicts, it is necessary to agree on the theme of water and energy. A lot of existent crisis areas are in close connection to water, but in terms of the population growth (e.g. Israel) and economic activities. These areas will be hit by a supplementary pressure of the climate change because they are likely to be the areas that will be most affected by climate change. The conflicts where the elementary issue of water is present are frequently shown by the media as stories of religious encounters and political plots (e.g. the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, an the conflict between India and Pakistan). Due to the extent of the adopted international agreements regarding water, in which a large amount of countries took part, I am optimistic. We have a lot of examples of good practice, and we can only hope that these practices will expand namely to the most stricken areas where the agreements still don’t exist.
Can we expect a greater number of climate refugees in the future?
Not only that we can expect a larger number of the climate refugees, I believe we already have them. From the history, the human reaction is very clear. The migrations of people were the reaction to the lack of natural resources (water, wood, food). In this case, a large amount of climate refugees is a logical thing, especially in such a mobile world. Climate refugees will not only be direct (because of the lack of drinking water or the rise of sea level), but also economic ones, when the economic activity will diminish due to the climate change (e.g. the effect on tourism). In Slovenia, we are not ready at all for this problem, while other countries (e.g. Australia) are actively preparing for the problems of climate refugees. Not even the United Nations have a settled policy regarding the climate refugees, and the same goes for individual countries. Due to natural resources and relatively rare density of population, and thanks to the fact that the climate change in the global context won’t affect us too much, Slovenia will be an attractive destination for migrations. A key climate change in Slovenia will be a larger number of the rigours of the weather as an effect of the geographical position of the country, and because of the small size of the territory, a relatively big part of the population is always affected.
The interview was conducted by Mrs. Adriana Aralica and Mr. Peter Kumer on 6 March 2013.