Only 3% of the earth’s water is freshwater; about two-thirds of it is frozen in glaciers and polar ice caps and we have long over-stretched this precious resource.
The world faces considerable challenges in equitably managing the freshwater available to us for a growing population as we try and manage the impacts of climate change.
From the a legal perspective this requires normative instruments that promote sustainable freshwater policies, which still needs to be implemented or even developed in many legal systems around the globe.

The IUCN Environmental Law Programme, through the Environmental Law Centre and the World Commission on Environmental Law (WCEL) Specialist Group on Water and Wetlands, is responding to this need by providing technical advice in the form of legal analyses and legislative drafting to IUCN members, developing country governments and international water institutions. Furthermore, the ELP contributes to major IUCN initiatives such as the Water and Nature Initiative (WANI), whose main goal is the mainstreaming of an ecosystem approach into catchment policies, planning and management.

Water Law and International Water Governance

With the support of the Swiss Development Cooperation, the BRIDGE project (Building River Dialogue and Governance) was officially launched in 2011. This initiative drives most of the ELP's transboundary waters work. It focuses on water diplomacy and governance in transboundary hotspots and aims to ensure that reforms are coordinated across national boundaries, internally consistent and able to catalyze progress on safe water supply and sanitation. The ELC has been instrumental in the design and implementation of the project at both global level and in target regions (South America, Mesoamerica and Asia).

As a key component of the BRIDGE project, the Water Law and Governance Support Platform (WLGSP) was officially launched during the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille, France in March 2012. The Platform is designed to provide legal expertise and support on water governance issues in transboundary contexts whenever specific questions and needs arise throughout the learning and implementation cycle of water governance projects. Specific legal questions can be easily submitted to a team of water law experts from around the world.

The WLGSP is available at http://www.waterlawandgovernance.org/

Water and Ecosystem Based Adaptation

The ELP also contributes to Climate Change Governance Capacity, particularly aiming to develop good governance and local capacities to adapt to climate change through applied research, awareness raising, community participation, and by replicating effective models of integrated ecosystem approaches to water management.

Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and strategies for ecosystem-based adaptation to climate changes need to be efficiently implemented, in order to ensure the provision of environmental services.
This is not an easy process and requires the strengthening of institutional capacities and flexible regulatory frameworks.

In this regard the IUCN ELP has been a world leader in breaking ground in this field.

The first step was to understand and analyze from a governance perspective, the connections and entry points within water governance and climate change adaptation. Research papers and governance studies showed that certain aspects require a legal and institutional response, ranging from flexible allocation mechanisms to legal and policy principles, methods and tools to address water quality issues.

However, major challenges remain in the implementation of the ecosystem approach and its sectorial integration. Given the fragmented development of laws and institutional structures (i.e. natural resources, water, forest and risk management) in different regions of the world, fostering good governance for water and climate change adaptation is crucial in order to bring together areas of law that are traditionally isolated.

The ELP works hand in hand with the different institutions from partner and member countries dealing with water and climate, facilitating and enabling the right environment for best implementation of existing laws.

This has been done for example, by convening and supporting the Regional Policy Dialog (RPD) on Water and Climate Change in the Americas jointly with CONAGUA (Mexico) and twenty other partners; by providing comments related to the ecosystem approach on the Chiapas Climate Change law, and to the National Climate Change Action Plan of Costa Rica; by supporting the El Salvadorian government in capacity building workshops on climate change governance; or by fostering and strengthening the joint institutional bodies between Costa Rica and Panama for joint response to climate change.

The ELP will continue to serve as a support-mechanism to community leaders all the way up to decision makers on policies, laws and institutional dynamics of different sectors dealing with adaptation to climate change.


At the IUCN World Conservation Congress, our membership stressed the importance of wetlands and their ecological functions, passing a specific resolution on this topic (WCC-2012-Res-068).

Regarding governance issues, the resolution call upon States to renew the commitment to assessing and guaranteeing appropriate allocation and management of water resources for the maintenance of the ecological functions of wetlands, and to ensuring that the principles stated by IUCN (i.e. the ecosystems approach, sustainability, etc.) are incorporated into their national policies on water resources and wetlands.

It also urges riparian States with wetlands located in transboundary river basins to work together for the equitable, reasonable and optimum utilization of water resources, and Parties to the Ramsar Convention to approve guidelines for the application of methods which facilitate assessing the water needs of wetlands for the purpose of maintaining their ecological functions and ensuring water allocation.

The ELC together with WCEL will make sure to support efforts across the Union, to make sure this resolution, particularly where it refers to governance of wetlands, is implemented.