The efforts of the water community paid off. For the first time in history, water was explicitly incorporated in a COP decision highlighting that it is a key solution to the worsening climate crisis and must sit at the centre of climate action.
By Fiona Bottigliero, Global Communications Lead for Water Systems
COP dominated headlines around the world again this year hosting more than 100 Heads of State and Governments, over 45,000 participants and countless pavilions showcasing climate action around the globe and across different sectors. Even before the biggest climate change conference in the world got underway on 6 November 2022, it was clear that we are not on track to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. With catastrophic extreme weather events threatening the health, food security and livelihoods of millions of people around the world, did COP27 deliver concrete results and put the world back on course? The answer is yes and no. As António Guterres, Secretary General of the UN, said in his closing statement, “our planet is still in the emergency room.”
And what about water? With so much noise, did it feature in international climate discussions? And what more can research-for-development organizations like IWMI do to bridge the gap between science and policy?
Visibility matters but what goes on behind the scenes matters more
Since the ground-breaking 2015 Paris Agreement, COP has grown drawing more stakeholders to the event. Glitzy pavilions, hashtags and snazzy communications campaigns have become the norm. It seems that it is easier to advertise our promises than implement them. In the past, the emphasis was on negotiations but there is now another side to COP where countless stakeholders meet to network and showcase their solutions to the climate crisis.
IWMI’s participation was strong. As a core partner of the Water Pavilion, we led two thematic days and 12 individual sessions. Together with other partners including AGWA, we organized a side event on the Water Tracker – a tool to help countries self-assess and enhance water resilience in their national climate plans, linking climate science to policy action and finance. We also led a UNFCCC Global Stocktake roundtable and were the only water organization to participate in the first-ever High-Level Roundtable on Water Security at a COP.
Another key initiative that IWMI played an important role in developing (together with our water partners and networks) was the conceptualization of the AWARe (Action on Water Adaptation or Resilience) initiative led by the COP Presidency where we provided strategic guidance on key areas of focus, took part in consultations at the Bonn UNFCCC conference and participated in its launch at COP27. During COP IWMI was honored to be asked by the H.E. Prof. Dr. Hany Sewilam, Egypt’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, to actively support in the implementation of the initiative, which will champion inclusive cooperation to address water related challenges and solutions across climate change adaptation. In addition, as a CGIAR centre, we contributed actively to the CGIAR, FAO and Rockefeller Foundation Food and Agriculture Pavilion and flew the flag for water at other Pavilions across the conference.
No doubt our presence was strong and impactful, but many of these activities seem increasingly distant (both physically and conceptually) from the hidden and much less glamorous world of negotiations. The question is, can science bridge the gap between these worlds and influence the negotiation process? COP27 is proof that it can, and the water community is a testament to this. For the second year running, over 30 partners came together at the Water Pavilion to advocate for water as a solution to the climate crisis. Slogans like “the climate crisis is a water crisis” and “water solutions are climate solutions” rang out, but this year, the water community went further by developing a set of concrete key messages for negotiators which hit home where it mattered. Moreover, we were able to leverage our strong networks at a national level ahead of COP27 with many Ministers attending our sessions. Through partnership and collaboration, we created the right conditions for dialogue. Our efforts went beyond a ‘show and tell’ of science within the secure boundaries of the Water Pavilion to providing concrete support to those who can have impact at a global scale.
The three big wins for water at COP27
- Water is on the COP27 cover decision
The efforts of the water community paid off. For the first time in history, water was explicitly incorporated in a COP decision highlighting that it is a key solution to the worsening climate crisis and must sit at the centre of climate action. We must protect, conserve, and restore water systems to deliver climate adaptation benefits. Without water, we cannot mitigate or adapt to climate change nor achieve the SDGs. This is finally being acknowledged by the international community.
- Breakthrough agreement on new “Loss and Damage” fund for vulnerable countries
Whether it’s too much water, too little or bad quality, climate change drives water emergencies locally and regionally. We have all witnessed the devastating impacts of floods in Pakistan or drought in the Horn of Africa. But these emergencies need a collective global response. Countries stepped up to the plate at COP27 reaching a historic decision to establish and operationalize a loss and damage fund particularly for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate and water disasters. It remains to be seen how this will work, but it is a major breakthrough and step forward to address issues of climate justice.
- Water is a key theme in the Global Goal on Adaptation
Water has also been recognized as a key theme in the decision related to the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), a process established under the Paris Agreement to enhance work on adaptation with the aim of building adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience, and reducing vulnerability to climate change. IWMI stands ready to support the GGA process and ensure water issues are adequately covered.
A time for reflection: where should we put our efforts moving forward?
It is increasingly evident that international climate negotiations can benefit from science, but this may require changing tracks for organizations like IWMI. Perhaps to have the longer-term impact we want, we need to listen more and focus on strategic interventions at global events such as COP27. To achieve our objectives as an institution, we must continue to leverage our networks at the national level supporting governments to influence global climate processes. Afterall, maybe we can learn something from the world of pavilions and slogans– science needs to get better at communicating with the world of policy. IWMI emerges from COP27 with a new-found self-awareness, direction and sense of purpose that will guide the way to the UN 2023 Water Conference and COP28. Water is on the agenda. Now it’s time to make it count.