The impacts of climate change on water resources are already evident. The variability of the water cycle, the rise in sea levels, the increasing frequency of increasingly severe extreme events and the reduced availability of water resources as a result of the increased pressure on them, demonstrate their inextricable relationship that turns the climate crisis into a water crisis, and vice versa.
In this sense, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) held in Egypt from 6 to 18 November under the theme: "Together for Implementation", dedicated the 14 November to address the main water problems facing society today: water scarcity, drought, lack of transboundary cooperation and the need to improve early warning systems. "Water affects all aspects of development and livelihoods and is linked to almost all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It drives economic growth, sustains ecosystem health and is essential and fundamental to life itself," highlights a document on water handled by the heads of state during their meeting at COP27. A novel document for having been introduced in the initial agenda of the leaders, normally focused on energy issues.
Current SDG 6 figures show, among other equally alarming facts, that water scarcity affects more than 40% of the world's population and that 80% of wastewater is discharged untreated into rivers and seas. In addition, more than 90% of disasters are water-related and the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has already warned of an intensification of the water cycle in the coming years.
With the desire to be part of the solution, the COP27 Presidency has launched this year the Action for Water Adaptation and Resilience (AWARe) Initiative, which aims to foster political efforts, practical action, knowledge sharing and capacity building on the ground to put adaptive water management systems at the heart of the climate change adaptation agenda.
The impacts of climate change on water resources are already evident
Its creation is based on the vision that integrated water and climate action is standard practice in SDG-related action and in the context of the Paris Agreement. In this regard, all members have the capacity to take stock of their current water budget and future water demand/supply, as well as early warning forecasting and planning to secure food and energy, manage floods, droughts and water-related risks.
Another important focus of COP27 was on early warning and early adaptation actions for the water sector. This year, both World Meteorological Day and the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction focused on the need to substantially increase the availability and accessibility of early warning systems, as well as stressing the importance of hydrometeorological and climate information to reduce disaster risk. Thus, following this line, COP27 dedicated a session to address how to advance the implementation of the UN Secretary-General's Global Early Warning Initiative: "The United Nations will lead new actions to ensure that all people on Earth are protected by early warning systems within five years," announced António Guterres. Also addressed were actions to adapt to drought and water scarcity, the role of public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the water sector, and flash flood protection.
This COP27 also served to discuss water security and sustainable development once again with the aim of finding tangible solutions to limit water scarcity and improve water security in a sustainable way with a special focus on those countries most exposed to the consequences of climate change. Among these countries are African countries, as highlighted in a specific session dedicated to climate adaptation for the water sector in Africa. It showcased success stories where water systems have successfully adapted to severe climate change, and examined how to build on these achievements to increase short-term resilience to worsening climate conditions within the continent, through public-private partnerships, sustainable financing and community engagement.
In this regard, Egypt, host of COP27 and a country used to dealing with severe situations and conflicts related to water security, has followed up on the Water Pavilion that was first held at COP26 in Glasgow. Led this time by the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, it has mobilised more than thirty different organisations, institutions, governments and global companies, with the aim of providing cutting-edge science-based advice to decision-makers and climate negotiators.
In this COP27 water seems to have acquired a greater weight than in previous COPs
The objective of this year's COP27 was to pave the way for future ambition to effectively address the global challenge of climate change. And on this path, water seems to have acquired a greater weight than at previous Summits. An integrated approach to climate change and water resources management is therefore needed, as outlined in the UN-Water Policy Brief on Climate Change and Water, reflected in the formulation of plans and policies that include a global perspective and involve stakeholders, including the private sector and civil society.
Every year world leaders call for more ambitious climate action, but the promises they make end up remaining just words. "The world is paying attention and has a simple message for everyone: stay strong and stay committed. Deliver on the kind of meaningful Climate Action that is so badly needed," said António Guterres on the last day of COP27. Climate action that focuses on water with more intensity and urgency than ever before.