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Tensions of Sustainable Water Governance

Sustainable water governance is expected to solve problems related to water scarcity, hydro-electricity and water contamination, to name a few. How do we understand sustainability in relation to water governance? Why do many water interventions labelled as “sustainable” produce highly contradictory results?

In this episode, Mira Käkönen talks about how dams are marketed as multi-purpose, sustainable solutions which can provide renewable energy and mitigate floods. The reality, however, unfolds differently as she explains: “the ways how these dams are built are through these concessionary agreements, where the corporate concessionaires have very high level of autonomy in how they operate the dam… and of course their rationale is to produce profit from selling hydro-electricity and so actually these dams are very uni-purpose dams […]” Climate justifications for dams are contradictory in a situation, where several other harmful impacts of the dams get neglected, Mira says.

Sustainable water governance relates to wider discourses on sustainability. According to Jessica Budds, sustainability can be misleading, as “in the sustainability narrative there is this idea that the environment, the economy and social needs can be balanced quite neatly”. This type of portrayal tends to hide the trade-offs occurring within these relationships, Jessica continues. Instead of focusing e.g., on the technical implementation of water interventions, “I think what is really important in the whole debate around sustainable water governance, is to focus on unevenness, and the unevenness of the effects of interventions […] on different social groups […]”, Jessica highlights.

In this episode of Sustainability Unwrapped, Linda Annala Tesfaye, post-doctoral researcher at Hanken School of Economics at the Centre for Corporate Responsibility discusses the tensions surrounding sustainable use of water with Jessica Budds, Associate Professor at the University of East Anglia and Mira Käkönen, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Tampere Institute for Advanced Study.

Tune in to the episode to learn more about water governance!  

This text is written by Linda Annala Tesfaye and Elise Wegelius

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