Six days, 250 sessions and 3600 participants later: time to reflect on the key takeaways from an inspiring, challenging week in Stockholm.

The Closing Plenary on 31st August provided the opportunity for SIWI, the Scientific Programme Committee and World Water Week’s key collaborating partners (AfDB, UNESCO-WWAP, and TNC ) to discuss the main themes and notable outcomes, aligned to the Week’s overarching theme ‘Water, ecosystems and human development’:

Closing Plenary at World Water Week 2018

The need for bankable, blended infrastructure solutions
Grey and green infrastructure are not mutually exclusive. Depending on context and scale (spatial and temporal), an optimum blend of the two is required to sustainably manage and alleviate water resource challenges. Critically, in identifying grey infrastructure, we need to quantify its contribution to inclusive socio-economic growth. We also need to ensure it does not increase or exacerbate inequalities, because its impact radius is typically smaller than that of green infrastructure.

However, quantifying the associated costs, benefits and trade-offs of traditional grey engineering versus green or blended infrastructure remains a challenge. There are many unanswered (quantitative and qualitative) economic questions on these more innovative, ecosystem-oriented approaches, which creates a barrier to financing these interventions. It means that few water sector projects with a significant ecosystem or green component currently meet the criteria to attract private capital. While there are examples of innovative financing mechanisms for water and ecosystems-based interventions (green bonds, climate/water funds, etc.), most are still at early pilot stages and need critical thinking about modalities around scaling up and sustainability.

Creating ownership of the 2030 SDGs – the critical connection between policy and practice
Creating ownership requires a twofold approach that considers both high-level governance issues as well as on-the-ground realities. That is, we need to target decision-makers in the public and private sector who have the resources and influence to drive change at scale. Decision-makers need to envision equality as the political driver for proactive development of sustainable ecosystems, and ultimately attaining the SDGs.

Simultaneously, we must recognise that citizen science and bottom-up decision-making on why and what is measured, and by whom, has a direct effect on benefactor agency and empowerment. It’s an important step toward creating linkages between SDGs 5, 6 & 10. Linked to this, and something that emerged strongly across the week’s seminars, is the need to respect and harness the collective traditional knowledge of indigenous people, and women in particular, when developing solutions to better manage natural ecosystem limitations. It’s vital that these dual top down – bottom up perspectives speak to one another, with a view to ensuring the decisions of policymakers, practitioners, industry and researchers reflect and respond to localised development issues.

Drawing on these outcomes, 2019’s World Water Week will focus on ‘Water for society – Including all’ – recognising that inclusion and equality about access, participation and empowerment over water resources and ecosystems management are key to achieving the 2030 SDGs.

Caroline Brown is a consultant in the Resilience practice and focuses on water, climate change, social and gender equality issues. She is also a member of the Young Scientific Programme Committee.