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Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

Statement by Mr Kai Sauer at the United Nations Security Council Open debate on "Water, Peace and Security", 22 November 2016 - Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN : Current Affairs

United Nations, New York

Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN
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Speeches, 11/22/2016

Mr President,

Finland aligns herself with the statement of the European Union.

Finland welcomes the initiative to discuss the interlinkages between water, peace and security in this important forum.

While conflicts have globally decreased in number, they have also become more complex by nature. The root causes behind different conflicts vary but natural resources play increasingly an important role. Competition over natural resources is likely to increase in the future. Demand for freshwater is expected to increase by more than 50 per cent by 2050. At the same time, climate change together with environmental degradation is putting increasing pressure on the availability of natural resources – especially water. These growing tensions over resources can either act as drivers for conflict or play a role in fuelling them. As the highest guardian of international peace and security, the Security Council must play a leading role in preventing and responding to conflicts.

One of the most effective prevention tools is mediation in its different forms. Through our co-chairmanship in the UN Group of Friends of Mediation as well as in similar Groups of Fiends in the OSCE and in the EU, Finland has worked hard to strengthen the normative and institutional basis for mediation, thus creating space for mediators in the field. We aim at equipping mediation with better skills, knowhow, institutions, partnerships, as well as material support needed to prevent and solve conflicts. As part of these efforts, we also supported the joint guidance note, published by DPA and UNEP in February 2015 called "Natural resources and conflict: A guide for mediation practitioners". The guide translates decades of experience in natural resources related dispute resolution into concise and practical advice, including also specific chapters on water. It creates a resolution framework for disputes that center on natural resources.

Mr President,

As experience has shown, water can also serve as a basis and entry point for collaboration instead of conflict. To reach this, it is of vital importance to prove the win-win proposition in sharing resources and negotiated solutions.

Approximately 40 % of the world’s population lives in the areas that share water resources with two or more countries, but only a third of transboundary river basins is covered by proper cooperation mechanisms. It is therefore utmost important that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes a target to promote cooperation in the transboundary waters at all levels, as appropriate. We need strong commitments to implement this target.

The Steering Group of the Friends of Water in New York, of which also Finland is a member, has been a strong advocate for the comprehensive water agenda to ensure the implementation of SDG 6 and all water-related targets of the 2030 Agenda.

Our own experiences show that institutional arrangements such as river commissions and international water conventions together with very concrete measures, such as regulation of water flows, fish stocks, measures to reduce pollution and monitoring of water quality, can be agreed upon in a manner that benefits all parties to these agreements and arrangements. In 1966, the International Law Association adopted the Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers. Two international framework conventions, namely the 1992 UNECE Water Convention, so called Helsinki Convention, and the 1997 UN International Watercourse Convention, are now in force. Transboundary water cooperation and the related Water Conventions function as confidence building mechanisms to prevent conflicts with a long term view.

The practice of the international Court of Justice during the last two decades attests to a growing recognition of concerns regarding the protection of the environment. The jurisprudence of the Court has contributed to the development and clarification of international environmental law. The Court stated as early as in 1996 in its Advisory Opinion on Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons that states have a duty "to take environmental considerations into account in assessing what is necessary and proportionate in the pursuit of military objectives". Indeed, the general principles of international humanitarian law apply to natural environment. There can be little doubt that the full implementation of the existing rules and principles of IHL would be an important step in enhancing the protection of water in relation to armed conflicts.    

The global framework is necessary in supporting regional and bilateral arrangements, where the concrete work takes place. And the UN system as a whole must contribute more to conflict prevention. Finland is committed to do her share and promote this important discussion and also welcomes all countries sharing watercourses to join.

Thank you.

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Updated 12/2/2016

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