By the end of 2015 the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will expire. The MDGs have guided global development policy for more than a decade. The MDGs will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are to be adopted in September 2015 by the United Nations.

The MDG process has placed water back on the global political agenda in 2000. MDG 7 has as its target the halving of the number of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. In our review of global water governance processes we assessed the MDGs process as being by and large successful (Pahl-Wostl et al. 2013a). It circumvented the lengthy procedures of formal rule-making as a necessary condition for new political attention. By setting clear and measurable targets it helped mobilize resources, commitments, and greater coordination. However, the MDG process also shows clear deficiencies. Policy framing has lacked comprehensiveness which is reflected in the MDG’s negligence of universal access. A more comprehensive approach to the water challenge may be more beneficial to long-term sustainability than declaring success on the number of people gaining access to safe drinking water every year. Furthermore, measuring the achievement of targets only with statistics provided by governments casts a degree of doubt on the validity of the assessment of progress. The SDG process has the potential to capitalize on the insights gained during the implementation of the


The SDGs adopt a more comprehensive approach by moving away from a development focus towards a broader sustainability framing. Under which conditions could the SDG process become a global process driving transformative change towards sustainability? Hajer et al. (2015) caution against “cockpit-ism”. With cockpit-ism they refer to complete reliance on a hierarchical governance mode where national governments and intergovernmental organizations play the key role. Indeed experience from the MDGs and other policy processes suggest a multi-level implementation process. In particular, those societal groups most affected by the implementation process should be empowered and encouraged to actively participate in implementation and monitoring. The SDG implementation process could thus become instrumental in building transformative capacity (cf. conclusions of Chap. 10). It could also unite the as yet antagonistic discourses on market and community governance. The SDG process also poses a significant task for science to develop appropriate indicators and monitoring processes and to become actively engaged in the global governance process of SDG implementation.

One decade of global water research has provided clear evidence of the global dimension of the water challenge and has identified the key problems within it. However, such evidence has not contributed to transformative change in policies and a reversal of global trends. Research in the past has emphasized the identification of problems more than the identification of solutions. Furthermore, current 280 12 From Understanding to Transforming global assessments (e.g., World Water Assessment Programme and their flagship product, the World Water Development Report—WWDR) seem to be insufficient for informing policy leading to effective action. The WWDR is used as source of reference by many scientists and policy advisers but does not have a significant policy impact. I argue that the assessment process is product oriented with insufficient attention given to the political process which it is supposed to inform. In part, this can also be attributed to the absence of a more coherent global governance framework in the domain of water. Global water governance is fragmented and characterized by the absence of leadership (Pahl-Wostl et al. 2008; Gupta and Pahl-Wostl 2013; Gupta et al. 2013). Some may argue that this is not a problem since water is not a global commodity and should be addressed at national or local levels anyway. However, arguments abound that water governance needs also to be addressed at the global level (cf. Chap. 6). The lack of integration has also been recognized by the United Nations and UN-Water was established 2003 to overcome this coordination gap. UN-Water is an interagency mechanism to strengthen coordination among the 24 UN agencies working on various aspects of freshwater and sanitation. In an assessment of the role of UN-Water in global water governance Baumgartner and Pahl-Wostl (2013)

concluded that UN-Water has not yet had any significant impact on global water governance processes. However, it has the potential to act as a bridge between the expert-centered, knowledge-producing background and the political foreground of global water governance. In addition to the formal membership of the UN agencies, UN-Water has established links to a wide network of actors in global water governance. As an interagency coordination mechanism UN-Water lacks the direct control of an intergovernmental governing body and thus lacking formal decision-making power. At the same time, the institutional setup obliges UN-Water to account for concerns related to diplomacy and political correctness. UN-Water cannot, like many other organizations, unilaterally address controversial issues. Instead it has to embrace the broad spectrum of political and scientific complexity of global water challenges and find solutions that are acceptable to all of its member organizations—and ultimately to all member states. The mandate of UN-Water would have to be extended so that is could develop a role as an effective bridging organization linking network and hierarchical governance modes. One may question how realistic this proposal is given the power constellations in the UN-context.

However, there is no doubt that such bridging organizations are needed. In our analyses of processes in global water governance we identified some highly important missing links between knowledge generation and policy framing and between knowledge generation and rule-making (Pahl-Wostl et al. 2013a). The scientific community could also play a decisive role in this regard.

Science could and should become more active in the process of SDG implementation and make the transition to developing knowledge for action, and to identifying solutions in a co-production of knowledge process. If the water community would succeed in getting its act together it could establish a think-tank 12.2 Promising Global Discourses and Change Agents 281 providing global leadership in the identification of knowledge gaps and in promoting recognition of important research findings. To overcome the missing links in global water governance, such a think-tank needs to combine a high level of legitimacy in its role as knowledge generator and assure representativeness.



Pahl-Wostl, C. (2015). Water Governance in the Face of Global Change. In From Understanding to Transformation. Springer.