WaA call for papers: corporate engagement in water policy
September 14, 2011
Open for business or opening Pandora’s box?
A constructive critique of corporate engagement in water policy
With the financial support of WWF, TNC and GIZ
Nick Hepworth (Water Witness International)
Jason Morrison (Pacific Institute)
Upmanu Lall (Columbia Water Centre)
Over the past decade the corporate world has awoken to the realisation that improved water management is a fundamental precursor to future prosperity. Its response, supported by substantial investment, has been wide ranging, from supply chain water footprinting and risk assessments, to catchment management projects and the creation of water credit and offset trading schemes. Private sector engagement in the water policy arena is now growing at a formidable pace but the mainstream water management and research community have not fully grasped the significance of this new interest. The many potential hazards and opportunities within these uncharted waters are yet to be navigated or even mapped with any certainty. There are many intellectual, practical and ethical imperatives raised by the growing corporate engagement and influence on the way society uses water and this is a topic ripe for analysis, debate and constructive critique.
Corporate engagement in water policy has the potential to lift the lid on a Pandora’s box of controversies or to inject a much needed tonic of vigour, creative thinking and investment to unlock some of our most intractable water challenges. Pioneering new ways to engage with those who control so much of the world’s commodity, finance and resource flows offers both huge opportunities and poses significant risks for positive change in water management.
This special issue seeks to explore the opportunities and hazards brought by this growing private sector interest in water policy and the dazzling array of new tools for water management which accompanies it. It responds to an absence of rigorous questioning and transparency, to open the range of bilateral and multilateral corporate initiatives, public-private and private-NGO partnerships to greater scrutiny and debate. To this end we invite both empirically grounded and theoretical reflection on these issues from those with interest or involvement in the business-water nexus. Submissions could describe or explore the genesis and motivations behind corporate water engagement and initiatives; real or potential applications, performance and outcomes; set out useful guiding parameters, insights and principles or explore polemical stances around the issues.
Illustrative but by no means exhaustive examples include:
- The emergence of water credits which now sees water resources in Africa available for sale online. Marketed as a sage and ethical investment, on one hand water credits could generate new forms of investment and incentives for management, yet on the other they risk a new commodification of the resource towards largely unconsidered but nefarious ends.
- Some of the world’s largest corporations have joined forces to conduct basin-by-basin analyses of future availability against projected demand in order to develop cost curves of investment needed to ‘release’ water, and promote its reallocation to ‘higher value uses’. Such a sophisticated economic lens for forecasting could be exactly what is needed to plan water security, but whose water security will be prioritized when that lens can only be peered through by the most powerful water users?
- Water footprint analysis has entered the zeitgeist and has arguably done more to elevate water up the political and business agendas than any other concept or tool in memory. Yet its methodological imperfections and potential to drive perverse outcomes remain largely unexplored or debated, despite widespread and growing application.
- Water offsetting and the concept of water neutrality also grow in popularity, with companies already investing in good works in distant catchments to ostensibly offset their water ‘impacts’ in others. Elsewhere Payment for Watershed Services are promoted to facilitate cash or in kind transfers between downstream corporate water users and poor upstream communities. As a way of leveraging investment such approaches represent a potential jackpot for some, but how technically credible, socially ethical and administratively sustainable are these schemes, and whose legitimacy and interests are at stake?
- Water mapping tools and ‘hotspot’ identification have become de rigueur for multi-national companies to help them identify risk and focus investment, despite the epistemological agonies associated with such analyses. One iteration of imperfectly defined water risk after another flag much of the developing world as an alarming red, potentially discouraging investment where it is needed most.
- Further, a global initiative is now underway to develop water stewardship standards to define, guide and reward 'equitable and sustainable water use'. This effort aspires to develop universally applicable definitions, criteria and indicators for these lofty goals in the face of the persisting anxieties inspired by these concepts in terms of operational application.
We look forward to a rich, timely and above all constructive debate which will open new doors of inquiry and collaboration towards a genuinely secure and equitable shared water future. Whilst issues of water privatisation may be relevant in this debate we urge a focus instead on the nascent issue of corporates as large-scale water users and emergent actors in public water policy.
- Abstract (300 words) by October 20, 2011
- Decision to authors by November 15, 2011
- Full papers by Mars 1, 2012
- Peer reviewed comments by May 15, 2012
- Final version of paper by July 15, 2012 for publication on the first of October 2012
Contact the guest-editorsNick Hepworth (Water Witness International) firstname.lastname@example.org
Jason Morrison (Pacific Institute) email@example.com
Upmanu Lall (Columbia Water Centre) firstname.lastname@example.org
or send your abstract to: email@example.com