Making water the engine for climate action

Much progress has been made on water security over recent decades, yet for the first time in human history, our collective actions have pushed the global water cycle out of balance. Water is life: it is essential for health, food, energy, socioeconomic development, nature and livable cities. It is hardly surprising that the climate and biodiversity crises are also a water crisis, where one reinforces the other. Already, a staggering four billion people suffer from water scarcity  for at least one month a year and two billion people lack access to safely-managed drinking water. By 2030, global water demand will exceed availability by 40 percent. By 2050, climate-driven water scarcity could impact the economic growth of some regions by up to 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product per year.

Meike van Ginneken, Water Envoy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Right now, the world’s first Global Stocktake is assessing the progress being made toward the goals of the Paris Agreement and global leaders are convening at COP28 in Dubai to agree on a way forward. We have a critical opportunity to catalyze global ambition and recognize that water is how climate change manifests itself. While wealthier, more resilient nations may be able to manage the devastating impacts of climate change, these same challenges are disastrous for lesser developed, more vulnerable communities.

Rainfall, the source of all freshwater, is becoming more erratic. Changes in precipitation, evaporation and soil moisture are creating severe food insecurity. Droughts trap farmers in poverty, as the majority of cultivated land is rain-fed. Extreme drought reduces growth in developing countries by about 0.85 percentage points. Melting glaciers, sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion jeopardize freshwater supplies. Floods destroy infrastructure, damage homes and disrupt livelihoods. The 2022 Pakistan floods affected 33 million people and more than 1,730 lost their lives, while 2023 saw devastating floods in Libya among other places.  

Now more than ever, it is urgent that we work together to make water the engine of climate action. Already, many countries are investing in technology and climate-resilient water infrastructure. Yet, we need more than technology and engineering to adapt to a changing climate. To advance global water action, we must radically change the way we understand, value and manage water with an emphasis on two necessary measures.

First, we need to make water availability central to our economic planning and decision-making. We need to rethink where and how we grow our food, where we build our cities, and where we plan our industries. We cannot continue to grow thirsty crops in drylands or drain wetlands and cut down forests to raise our cattle. In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.

In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.  

Second, we must restore and protect natural freshwater stocks, our buffers against extreme climate events. Natural freshwater storage is how we save water for dry periods and freshwater storage capacity is how we store rainwater to mitigate floods. 99 percent of freshwater storage is in nature. We need to halt the decline of groundwater, wetlands and floodplains. But our challenge is not only about surface and groundwater bodies, or blue water. We also need to preserve and restore our green water stocks, or the water that remains in the soil after rainfall. To reduce the decline of blue water and preserve green water, we need to implement water-friendly crop-management practices and incorporate key stakeholders, such as farmers, into the decision-making process.

Addressing the urgency of the global water crisis goes beyond the water sector. It requires transformative changes at every level of society. National climate plans such as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans are key instruments to make water an organizing principle to spatial, economic and investment planning. Much like the Netherlands did earlier this year when the Dutch parliament adopted a policy that makes water and soil guiding principles in all our spatial planning decisions. Right now, about 90 percent of all countries’ NDCs prioritize action on water for adaptation. NDCs and National Adaptation Plans are drivers of integrated planning and have the potential to unlock vast investments, yet including targets for water is only a first step.

To drive global action, the Netherlands and the Republic of Tajikistan co-hosted the United Nations 2023 Water Conference, bringing the world together for a bold Water Action Agenda to accelerate change across sectors and deliver on the water actions in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement. To elevate the agenda’s emphasis on accelerating implementation and improved impact, the Netherlands is contributing an additional €5 million to the NDC Partnership to support countries to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce water-related climate vulnerability and increase public and private investments targeting water-nexus opportunities. As a global coalition of over 200 countries and international institutions, the NDC Partnership is uniquely positioned to support countries to enhance the integration of water in formulating, updating, financing and implementing countries’ NDCs.

One example showcasing the importance of incorporating water management into national planning comes from former NDC Partnership co-chair and climate leader, Jamaica. Jamaica’s National Water Commission (NWC), one of the largest electricity consumers in the country, mobilized technical assistance to develop an integrated energy efficiency and renewables program to reduce its energy intensity, building up the resilience of the network, while helping reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. With additional support from the Netherlands, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with Global Water Partnership (GWP)-Caribbean, the government of Jamaica will ensure the National Water Commission is well equipped for the future. Implementation of climate commitments and the requisite financing to do so are key to ensuring targets like these are met.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world. We are committed to providing political leadership and deploying our know-how for a more water-secure world. As we look towards the outcomes of the Global Stocktake and COP28, it is essential that we make water the engine of climate action. 



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AWS digital sovereignty pledge: A new, independent sovereign cloud in Europe

From day one, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has believed it is essential that customers have control over their data, and choices for how they secure and manage that data in the cloud. Last year, we introduced the AWS Digital Sovereignty Pledge, our commitment to offering AWS customers the most advanced set of sovereignty controls and features available in the cloud.

AWS offers the largest and most comprehensive cloud infrastructure globally. Our approach from the beginning has been to make AWS sovereign-by-design. We built data protection features and controls in the AWS cloud with input from financial services, health care and government customers — who are among the most security- and data privacy-conscious organizations in the world. This has led to innovations like the AWS Nitro System, which powers all our modern Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances and provides a strong physical and logical security boundary to enforce access restrictions so that nobody, including AWS employees, can access customer data running in Amazon EC2. The security design of the Nitro System has also been independently validated by the NCC Group in a public report.

With AWS, customers have always had control over the location of their data. In Europe, customers who need to comply with European data residency requirements have the choice to deploy their data to any of our eight existing AWS Regions (Ireland, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Stockholm, Milan, Zurich and Spain) to keep their data securely in Europe. To run their sensitive workloads, European customers can leverage the broadest and deepest portfolio of services, including AI, analytics, compute, database, internet of things, machine learning, mobile services and storage. To further support customers, we’ve innovated to offer more control and choice over their data. For example, we announced further transparency and assurances, and new dedicated infrastructure options with AWS ‘Dedicated Local Zones’.

To deliver enhanced operational resilience within the EU, only EU residents who are located in the EU will have control of the operations and support.

Announcing the AWS European Sovereign Cloud

When we speak to public-sector and regulated-industry customers in Europe, they share how they are facing incredible complexity with an evolving sovereignty landscape. Customers tell us they want to adopt the cloud, but are facing increasing regulatory scrutiny over data location, European operational autonomy and resilience. We’ve learned that these customers are concerned that they will have to choose between the full power of AWS or feature-limited sovereign cloud solutions. We’ve had deep engagements with European regulators, national cybersecurity authorities, and customers to understand how the sovereignty needs of customers can vary based on multiple factors, like location, sensitivity of workloads, and industry. We recently announced our plans to launch the AWS European Sovereign Cloud, a new, independent cloud for Europe, designed to help public sector organizations and customers in highly-regulated industries meet their evolving sovereignty needs. We’re designing the AWS European Sovereign Cloud to be separate and independent from our existing ‘regions’, with infrastructure located wholly within the European Union, with the same security, availability and performance our customers get from existing regions today. To deliver enhanced operational resilience within the EU, only EU residents who are located in the EU will have control of the operations and support for the AWS European Sovereign Cloud. The AWS European Sovereign Cloud will launch its first AWS Region in Germany available to all European customers.

Built on more than a decade of experience operating multiple independent clouds for the most critical and restricted workloads.

The AWS European Sovereign Cloud will be sovereign-by-design, and will be built on more than a decade of experience operating multiple independent clouds for the most critical and restricted workloads. Like existing regions, the AWS European Sovereign Cloud will be built for high availability and resiliency, and powered by the AWS Nitro System, to help ensure the confidentiality and integrity of customer data. Customers will have the control and assurance that AWS will not access or use customer data for any purpose without their agreement. AWS gives customers the strongest sovereignty controls among leading cloud providers. For customers with enhanced data residency needs, the AWS European Sovereign cloud is designed to go further and will allow customers to keep all metadata they create (such as the roles, permissions, resource labels and configurations they use to run AWS) in the EU. The AWS European Sovereign Cloud will also be built with separate, in-region billing and usage metering systems.

Delivering operational autonomy

The AWS European Sovereign Cloud will provide customers with the capability to meet stringent operational autonomy and data residency requirements. To deliver enhanced data residency and operational resilience within the EU, the AWS European Sovereign Cloud infrastructure will be operated independently from existing AWS Regions. To assure independent operation of the AWS European Sovereign Cloud, only personnel who are EU residents, located in the EU, will have control of day-to-day operations, including access to data centers, technical support and customer service.

Control without compromise

Though separate, the AWS European Sovereign Cloud will offer the same industry-leading architecture built for security and availability as other AWS Regions. This will include multiple ‘Availability Zones’, infrastructure that is placed in separate and distinct geographic locations, with enough distance to significantly reduce the risk of a single event impacting customers’ business continuity.

Continued AWS investment in Europe

The AWS European Sovereign Cloud represents continued AWS investment in Europe. AWS is committed to innovating to support European values and Europe’s digital future. We drive economic development through investing in infrastructure, jobs and skills in communities and countries across Europe. We are creating thousands of high-quality jobs and investing billions of euros in European economies. Amazon has created more than 100,000 permanent jobs across the EU. Some of our largest AWS development teams are located in Europe, with key centers in Dublin, Dresden and Berlin. As part of our continued commitment to contribute to the development of digital skills, we will hire and develop additional local personnel to operate and support the AWS European Sovereign Cloud.

Our commitments to our customers

We remain committed to giving our customers control and choices to help meet their evolving digital sovereignty needs. We continue to innovate sovereignty features, controls and assurances globally with AWS, without compromising on the full power of AWS.



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Vienna seeks to calm Selmayr ‘blood money’ furor

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Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg signaled his government was de-escalating a row with the EU’s senior representative in the country, Martin Selmayr, who last week accused Vienna of paying “blood money” to Moscow by continuing to purchase large quantities of Russian gas.

“Everything has already been said about this,” Schallenberg said over the weekend in a written response to questions from POLITICO on the affair. “We are working hard to drastically reduce our energy dependency on Russia and we will continue to do so.”

Austrian officials insist that the country’s continued reliance on Russian gas is only temporary and that it will wean itself off by 2027 (over the past 18 months, the share of Russian gas in Austria has dropped from 80 percent to an average of 56 percent).

Some experts question the viability of that plan, considering that OMV, the country’s dominant oil and gas company, signed a long-term supply deal with Gazprom under former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz that company executives say is virtually impossible to withdraw from.

Those complications are likely one reason why Vienna — even as its officials point out that Austria is far from the only EU member to continue to rely on Russian gas — doesn’t want to dwell on the substance of Selmayr’s criticism.

“We should rather focus on maintaining our unity and cohesion within the European Union in dealing with Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine,” Schallenberg told POLITICO. “We can only overcome the challenges ahead of us in a united effort.”

Schallenberg’s remarks follow a decision by the European Commission on Friday to summon Selmayr to Brussels to answer for his actions. A spokesman for the EU executive on Friday characterized the envoy’s comments as “not only unnecessary, but also inappropriate.”

Given that the Austrian government is led by a center-right party, which is allied with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s European People’s Party bloc, the sharp reaction from Brussels is not surprising. An official close to the Austrian government said Vienna had not demanded Selmayr’s removal.

Selmayr made the “blood money” comment, by his own account, while defending the Commission chief. He told an Austrian newspaper that he made the remark during a public discussion in Vienna on Wednesday in response to an audience member who accused von der Leyen of “warmongering” in Ukraine and having “blood on her hands.”

“This surprises me, because blood money is sent to Russia every day with the gas bill,” Selmayr told the audience.

Selmayr expressed surprise that there wasn’t more public outcry in Austria over the country’s continued reliance on Russian natural gas, which has accounted for about 56 percent of its purchases so far this year. (A review of a transcript of the event by Austrian daily Die Presse found no mention of the comments Selmayr attributed to the audience member, however.)

Austria’s deep relationship to Russia, which has continued unabated since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, has prompted regular criticism from its European peers.

Even so, the EU envoy’s unvarnished assessment caused an immediate uproar in the neutral country, especially on the populist far right, whose leaders called for Selmayr’s immediate dismissal.

Europe Minister Karoline Edtstadler called the remarks “dubious and counterproductive” | Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE

Schallenberg’s ministry summoned Selmayr on Thursday to answer for his comments and the country’s Europe Minister, Karoline Edtstadler, called the remarks “dubious and counterproductive.” Some in Vienna also questioned whether Selmayr, who as a senior Commission official helped Germany navigate the shoals of EU bureaucracy to push through the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline — thus increasing Europe’s dependency on Russian gas — was really in a position to criticize Austria.

Nonetheless, Selmayr’s opinion carries considerable weight in Austria, given his history as the Commission’s most senior civil servant and right-hand man to former Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Though Selmayr, who is German, has a record of living up to his country’s reputation for directness and sharp elbows, even his enemies consider him to be one of the EU’s best minds.

His rhetorical gifts have made him a considerable force in Austria, where he arrived in 2019 (after stepping down under a cloud in Brussels). He is a regular presence on television and in print media, weighing in on everything from the euro common currency to security policy.

After Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer recently pledged to anchor a right to pay with euro bills and coins in cash-crazed Austria’s constitution, for example, Selmayr reminded his host country that that right already existed under EU law. What’s more, he wrote, Austrians had agreed to hand control of the common currency to the EU when they voted to join the bloc in 1994.

A few weeks later, he interjected himself into the country’s security debate, arguing that “Europe’s army is NATO,” an unwelcome take in a country clinging on to its neutrality.

Though Selmayr’s interventions tend to rub Austria’s government the wrong way, they’ve generally hit the mark.

The latest controversy and Selmayr’s general approach to the job point to a fundamental divide in the EU over the role of the European Commission’s local representatives. Most governments want the envoys to serve like traditional ambassadors and to carry out their duties, as one Austria official put it to POLITICO recently, “without making noise.”

Yet Selmayr’s tenure suggests that the role is often most effective when structured as a corrective, or reality check, by viewing national political debates through the lens of the broader EU.  

In Austria, where the anti-EU Freedom Party is leading the polls by a comfortable margin ahead of next year’s general election, that perspective is arguably more necessary than ever.

Victor Jack contributed reporting.



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Why Elly Schlein is freaking out Italy’s ‘soft’ socialists

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Right-wing hardliners could not dream of an easier target than Elly Schlein, the new leader of Italy’s center-left Democratic Party (PD).

A global citizen with a female partner and an upper-middle-class upbringing, the youngest and first female leader of Italy’s most-established progressive party has sparked the ire of the country’s conservatives.

“CommunistElly,” the right-wing newspaper Il Tempo dubbed her after the leadership contest was decided on Sunday. Schlein defeated the favorite Stefano Bonaccini with 53.8 percent to 46.2 percent of the vote.

Far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s allies have been relishing the polarization around Schlein — the two political leaders, though both female, stand for very different values.

“She promised to prioritize the poor, public education and workers,” right-wing commentator Italo Bocchino said in attacking Schlein. “But unlike Meloni, she has never known the poor in her life,” he continued, pointing out how she attended a private school “for rich people” in Switzerland. Nor can Schlein know workers “as she’s never worked in her life,” he ranted.

Schlein’s surprise win has not only fired up her opponents, but also unsettled many in her own party. Fellow social democrats are spooked that Schlein could transform the PD from the broad progressive church it’s historically been into a much more radical sect.

There’s also concern about whether she’ll stand by the party’s support for sending lethal weapons to Ukraine given her self-described pacifist views.

Most skeptics are clinging on — for now — although a few have already jumped ship.

“The PD is over,” declared David Allegranti, a journalist for the Florence daily La Nazione. The expert on the Italian center-left argues that Schlein and many of her allies hail from leftist splinter groups and were not members of the PD until barely a few months ago — discrediting them in their critics’ eyes.

Ex-Cabinet minister Giuseppe Fioroni, among the founding members of the PD, told POLITICO: “Her project has nothing to do with my history and my political culture.” Having foreseen the outcome, Fioroni left the party one day before Schlein’s victory was announced. “My PD is no longer there, this is another party — it no longer belongs to the center left, but to the hard left,” he said.

As a youth leader in 2013, Schlein became the figurehead of Occupy PD, a protest movement set up by disaffected progressives angered over 101 center-left parliamentarians who voted against their own social democrat grandee Romano Prodi’s bid to become the president of Italy.

“With Elly Schlein, the PD has occupied itself,” quipped Allegranti.

Ex-Cabinet minister and PD founding member Giuseppe Fioroni left the party one day before Schlein’s victory, saying that the party “no longer belongs to the center left, but to the hard left” | Claudio Peri/EPA

The young radical

The daughter of a Swiss-based political scientist couple (one Italian and one American), Schlein was raised in Lugano, the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, and spent her teens writing film reviews — her dream at the time was to become a film director — as well as playing the board game “Trivial Pursuit” and the cult 90s video game “The Secret of Monkey Island.”

Her first stint in politics came in 2008, when she cut her teeth working as a volunteer for Barack Obama’s two U.S. presidential election campaigns — heading to Chicago to do so.

“Here, I understood that you don’t need to ask for votes, but mobilize people with ideas,” she recalled to La Repubblica. A decade on, the lesson proved useful for her own leadership campaign.

In a first for the PD’s leadership contests, Schlein won the open ballot after losing by a wide margin in the caucus with party members the week before, demonstrating her capacity to win over voters.

The newly elected leader gained the upper hand over Bonaccini in big cities such as Milan, Turin and Naples, as well as performing well almost everywhere north of Rome — but lost in most southern regions, according to pollster YouTrend.

“There was a wave of support that brought along different kinds of voters, who were united by a strong desire for change,” said Lorenzo Pregliasco, the founder of YouTrend.

However, Pregliasco played down reports of a “youthquake,” and described the leadership campaign as “boring, dull and largely ignored by public opinion.”

End of the party, or a new beginning?

While there are no exact figures on voter turnout available, Italian media reports that around 1.2 million people cast their ballots — which would mark the lowest figures since PD party primaries were first held in 2007.

After becoming a member of the European Parliament with the Socialists & Democrats group in 2014 at the age of 28, Schlein took the unexpected decision to abandon the PD a year later, accusing then-prime minister and PD party leader Matteo Renzi of lurching to the right.

The decision turned out to be prophetic, as Renzi suffered a number of electoral defeats that snowballed into his resignation as prime minister in 2016, and as party leader in 2018.

Pippo Civati, a former parliamentarian and longtime ally of Schlein who is now out of politics, recalled of Schlein in 2015: “We left at the same time because he [Renzi] was making one mess after another.”

Speaking to POLITICO, Civati warned that the newly elected leader could end up having her hands tied by party bigwigs who backed the popular politician without necessarily having any genuine commitment to her radical ideas.

Pundits point out that the conflict in Ukraine could be the trickiest issue for Schlein, whose distant ancestors hail from a village close to modern-day Lviv. There are question marks over whether she will carry forward her predecessor Enrico Letta’s all-out support for the delivery of lethal weapons to Ukraine.

A U-turn by Schlein on support for Ukraine would leave Meloni as the only national party leader in favor of sending arms to the besieged country, fueling concerns among Western allies who see Italy as a weak link.

“A change of line over Ukraine could be the trigger for many centrists to leave the PD,” Allegranti said.

But Civati played down rumors of an about-face, arguing that Schlein is unlikely to oppose the sending of arms to Ukraine.

“We support Ukraine’s right to defend itself, through every form of assistance,” said Schlein in a recent interview with broadcaster La7. “But as a pacifist, I don’t think that weapons alone will end the war.”



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