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IWMI: Revolutionizing COP engagement for greater impact

  • IWMI: Revolutionizing COP engagement for greater impact

About the entity

International Water Management Institute (IWMI)
The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is a non-profit, scientific research organization focusing on the sustainable use of water and land resources in developing countries. IWMI is the lead center for the CGIAR Research Program on Water

A month has passed since COP28 kicked off. During this time, Smart Water Magazine has had the chance to speak to some of the leading water experts who attended the event to review the Summit’s milestones, especially regarding water. In this interview, we spoke with Vidhisha Samarasekara, Strategic Program Director – Water Climate Change and Resilience at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), about the organization’s participation in the UN Climate Change Conference and its key takeaways from this historic event.

Question: Can you tell us briefly about your career path and your current role at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI)?

Answer: I am an ecologist by training with more than two decades of operational experience in the development sector spanning the Asia Pacific, Eastern European, MENA and the Africa region. I have been fortunate to have worked with a diverse group of agencies during this time, including Multilateral Development Banks (ADB, IFAD and WB); Bilateral organisations (DFID/USAID); the Private Sector (KPMG); international conservation and research organisations (IUCN and WWF); and the UN.

Most of my work to date has been focused on development impact and one of the reasons I was bought into IWMI was in large part to be able to help IWMI realise its full potential in using knowledge, science and evidence to support decision-making and initiate change. I’ve been lucky in my work and through the collaborative stakeholder partnerships I have had the opportunity to design and implement programs of work, which have had a transformational impact. Examples of key achievements I have delivered thus far in my career include: (i) supporting Sri Lanka in the development of its first National Climate Change Adaptation Policy (2011); (ii) Strategic planning in the Water Sector in India and Nepal through the operationalisation of targeted water use efficiency and food security programs and (iii) mainstreaming climate change adaptation planning focused on water and agriculture in South Asia and Africa.

I am charged with building and implementing a portfolio of projects which respond to the main global risk posed by climate change, and which include the climate-related disasters of droughts and floods and increasing demand for water

At IWMI I am the Strategic Program Director for Water, Climate Change and Resilience. I am charged with building and implementing a portfolio of projects which respond to the main global risk posed by climate change, and which include the climate-related disasters of droughts and floods and increasing demand for water. To address these risks and challenges - and as part of the program, my team and I seek to provide water data and information, forecasts, projections and scenarios, as well as monitoring, evaluations, and assessments that can be used at a within-country scale and using country systems. The latter point speaks directly to the need to support the uptake of solutions provided and where the design considers local context and capabilities, these are then likely to be most successful. Related to this is the importance of having a strong presence in the countries we seek to serve and strong relationships with country counterparts with whom we seek to co-develop our research and innovation solutions.

Q: Last year, at COP27, was the first time policymakers and advocates focused on the interactions between climate change and water. A huge win for the water sector. What water-related progress did you see from COP28?

A: It is interesting that you ask this question - as IWMI, together with a wide and diverse set of water partners, worked hard to realise the gains that were made at COP 27 (find out more here: How Water Finally Became a Climate Change Priority | Scientific American)

This year at COP, IWMI has stood true to its words and has sought to support party delegations in their participation at COP. During the course of this year, we have held (and participated in) a number of pre-COP events held at the country level and also during the regional climate weeks where we have partnered for example with AGNES in joint events seeking to solidify the linkages between water and climate change for the Africa region. We have also taken part in and run several climate diplomacy events in Sri Lanka and Nepal. We have been invited to make intervention statements at the Bonn SBBSTA on the GST Adaptation and loss and damage agendas. We have also partnered in making submissions to the Standing Committee on doubling adaptation finance together with the AGNES group. The results of this strong engagement have in turn paid dividends. At COP 28 we saw IWMI scientists form part of party delegations in Jordan; Nepal, South Africa and Sri Lanka as focal points for water and next year I expect this number to increase.

This year at COP, IWMI has stood true to its words and has sought to support party delegations in their participation at COP

As part of IWMI engagement in party delegations and in our lobbying efforts with the water community as a whole, we have seen water figuring significantly in the negotiation outcomes with some crisp robust, science-based text coming out as a result. Similarly through our engagement as a member of the steering committee of the Water for Climate Pavilion and as a member of the advisory committee to the COP Presidency - in their planning of the first-ever ministerial dialogue on resilient water and food systems held at a UN Climate Conference (co-hosted by Brazil and the UAE), we witnessed the coming together of agriculture and water ministers, farmers, the private sector, and leading scientific, research, and development organizations representing both the Global South and North to take stock of water and food resilience in relevant national climate plans and commit to enhanced action we will see much more integration on water, food and land in the updated NDCs, NAPs, other relevant climate plans, and corporate strategies. Again, huge progress in formally recognising water as a connector between food and land systems.

Q: How does IWMI plan to assist governments in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, particularly in the context of COP28?

A: We are already planning and prioritizing various intervention areas - we will for instance be looking at how we can better support countries set up the best enabling environment for water-resilient climate action and in the process connect projects and programs across sectors. We are keen to support Governments to promote efficacy in the way the manage water and avoid bad investments. The links below detail some of the projects we are currently involved in and which seek to assist Governments in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement:

Q: IWMI has supported the Global Stocktake (GST) procedure from start to finish. Can you tell us a bit more about what the GST is, and why it is important for climate action?

A: The GST is a process which happens every five years to evaluate global progress toward the Paris Agreement’s goals and provide an updated roadmap for tackling the climate crisis. It’s important because by ‘taking stock’ through this process we better understand where we are lagging and where we need to do better. IWMI made a technical submission to the GST: in June 2022; we ran a world café at Sharm (COP 27) on water and adaptation; and in June of this year, we were invited to present an intervention statement at the Bonn SBBSTA.

From IWMI perspective, to be engaged in the GST as a process is important from the perspective of ensuring water is adequately covered and importantly figures in the discourse. As a Science based institution working on water/land and food, it is even more important that we engage.

Q: The WMO recently showed that 2023 has shattered climate records, with failing agriculture and increasing food insecurity. What changes are necessary to increase investment to ensure food security?

A: The picture is particularly stark when looking at climate finance dedicated to agrifood systems on which global populations depend. Small-scale agrifood systems (where 70% of food consumed in low-middle income economies is produced) for instance received just 0.8% of total global climate finance in 2019-20, a 44% drop on flows to small-scale agrifood systems since 2017-18. Inevitably it is developing countries that are most affected by this financing gap. Smallholder farmers from developing countries, who produce one-third of the world’s food, only receive 1.7% of climate finance, despite being amongst the most adversely affected by climate change.

To address some of these gaps there is a need to adapt the financial services and products on offer to smallholder farmers, so they actually suit their circumstances and needs. Though this might seem like an obvious statement to make this is still a major obstacle to overcome. Similarly, the opportunity to fill in particular the climate financing gap will require the mobilization of all types of finance - public, philanthropic, and private sector - to accelerate, scale and optimise investment in the food sector. It will require financing pathways that rely on innovative blended finance instruments, while simultaneously laying the foundations and creating pathways to catalyse greater private sector investment and improve the wider enabling ecosystem.

Q: What would you like to highlight from COP28?

IWMI has worked hard over the last couple of years to transform the way we engage in the COP Processes to be much more strategic in approach and in turn, have more impact. As an institution, we have a responsibility to support this process and have our science inform its outcomes. At this year’s COP IWMI participated in over 70 sessions across 37 pavilions which meant water was covered extensively and across multiple agendas. We worked directly with the UAE COP Presidency in launching a new initiative on water-resilient food systems which is at the core of our mission. We witnessed our staff embedded as part of party delegations and our collective action on multiple fronts ensured we made concrete contributions to key COP declarations including the COP 28 Declaration on Agriculture and Food and also with the GGA which for the first time included a target for water.

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