COP27: Nations pledge to join up action on water and adaptation

Pictured: The river Nile flowing through Cairo

The Egyptian COP27 Presidency has selected gender and water as its two themes for the day’s proceedings at the summit. While negotiators from national governments continue to negotiate the overarching agreement for the conference – a process which, we are told, has been slower than anticipated – we can expect several key initiatives on water and gender topics to be launched today. There will also likely be updates from existing major initiatives.

A new partnership between the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and Egyptian Presidency, centred around embedding water management in national climate adaptation efforts, is the major announcement for this morning. The Action for Water Adaptation and Resilience (AWARE) initiative is now open for governments to sign up.

The initiative sets out three priorities for governments, namely decreasing water loss and waste and improving water access; collaborating on water-related climate adaptation and recognising the link between action on water and the delivery of key climate goals, as well as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. The key SDG of focus is SDG 6, clean water and sanitation.

On the first priority, trillions of gallons of water are wasted globally each year. The main sources of losses are leaks and damage in water systems and intensive water users, including manufacturing, energy and agriculture. This will directly impact efforts to improve water access in low-income nations. According to the UN’s forecasts, 1.6 billion people will lack safely managed drinking water in or near home by 2030, and 2.8 billion people will lack safely managed sanitation. These people are more likely to live in water-stressed areas.

The ultimate aim is to prove that economic growth can be decoupled from freshwater use and water basin degradation. Governments will need to scale finance for water-climate adaptation initiatives, such as low-water irrigation and drought-resistant crop initiatives and digital water management technologies.

Under the last two pillars, governments will need to implement “mutually agreed policies and methods” to embed water management in national climate adaptation efforts. Such policies should include a ‘do no harm’ principle.

The launch of AWARE builds on the launch of the Sharm-El-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda in partnership with the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions, and the Marrakech Partnership.

The Agenda is a comprehensive global to-do list to help improve the resiliency of more than four billion people against climate-related risks. It outlines 30 “Adaptation Outcomes” to help protect those living in the most climate-vulnerable communities by 2030.

Actions are divided across five “impact systems” that include food and agriculture, water and nature, coastal and oceans, human settlements, and infrastructure, and including enabling solutions for planning and finance. Read the full story here.

Spotlight on Africa

Egypt has emphasised the importance of AWARE having links to existing activities and coalitions, such as the Water and Climate Coalition and Marrakech Partnership’s ‘Pathway Water’, to avoid the development of conflicting messages. AWARE will be hosted through a new Pan-African Centre for Water Climate Adaptation, to be hosted by Egypt and to have satellites in other supporting countries.

A 2021 report from the WMO warned that, without accelerated action, 80% of African nations are unlikely to have sustainably managed water resources by 2030. Many world leaders attending COP27 have highlighted the severe drought currently impacting the Horn of Africa, where 22 million people are at risk of starvation. Madagascar is also now more than two years into a drought impacting the south of the island in particular.

Also launching today is the African Cities Water Adaptation Fund (ACWA). This blended finance instrument, overseen by the World Resources Institute (WRI), has an overarching aim of implementing at least 200 water adaptation projects across 100 African nations within a decade.

There will be a focus on improving water access as well as improving water stewardship. The Race to Resilience initiative has stated that there  is a $66bn backlog in water and sanitation infrastructure investment in sub-Saharan Africa and that, even if that backlog were cleared immediately, an additional $9-14bn would be needed each year this decade to ensure reliable supply.

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