A distinguished panel of water and climate leaders led by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) at COP27 is calling on heads of government to “get serious about water”.
In a joint statement, several leading scientists have urged heads of state and government to introduce an integrated approach to water and climate action, citing the “fragmented” nature of the current approach which often isolates water as only “part of the solution” for achieving the Paris Agreement goals.
“As the atmosphere passes one degree of warming above pre-industrial levels, sea levels rise and the cryosphere melts, the effects of climate change are being felt as never before. Resultant flooding, heatwaves, droughts, storms and sea level rise worldwide will progressively worsen as warming continues towards 1.5 degrees and beyond,” says the statement which was was issued ahead of the high-level round table on Water Security during the Leaders Summit at COP27.
The Egyptian presidency has made water a priority of the negotiations in Sharm El Sheikh. Currently, 3.6 billion people face inadequate access to water at least a month per year and this is expected to increase to more than 5 billion by 2050. Between 2001 and 2018, UN-Water reported that 74% of all natural disasters are water-related (i.e. flood and droughts. Water-related hazards are therefore an important part of the new initiative to achieve Early Warnings For All in the next five years.
The Water and Climate Leaders are an eminent panel of 18 high-level decision and policy makers, which provides strategic guidance on integrating the water and climate agendas and fronts an international coalition spearheaded by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and nine UN agencies, the Global Water Partnership .
Emomali Rahmon, President of the Republic of Tajikistan is one of the leaders. More than 1,000 of the country’s 14,000 glaciers have completely melted. The total volume of Tajikistan’s glaciers, which make up more than 60 percent of the water resources in the Central Asian region, has decreased by almost a third.
Hani Sewilam, Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, of Egypt, represents a nation frequently confronted with water stress and whose lifeblood is the Nile. Africa is particularly vulnerable to water-related hazards and shortages.
The Water and Climate Leaders group includes also the Past President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Past Prime Ministers of the Republic of Togo and of the Republic of Korea, as well as high-level representatives of UN entities, civil society, the private sector, and a youth envoy.
The Leaders stressed that improved management of water resources is vital and would have numerous benefits: Reducing climate-induced disaster risks. Hydrometeorological monitoring and forecasting systems provide early warning of floods, droughts and other hazards. Better management of wetlands, dams and other water storages, with adequate safeguards, provides options for precautionary measures and emergency responses when such events happen.
“We call on you to prioritise early warning systems for floods, droughts and other water-related hazards as well as optimise water storages … in your disaster risk reduction strategies“ says the statement.
Enhancing climate change resilience and security. Well-managed water contributes to human rights and livelihoods, economic development, poverty reduction, job creation, public health, gender equality and maintenance of biodiversity. A supportive regulatory framework that fosters innovation including by the private sector and facilitates private-public cooperation on water can play a key role. In the case of transboundary water basins, cooperative water management fosters cross-border harmony and cooperation. Conserving and managing water-related ecosystems plays a critical role.
“We call on you to take into account current and future freshwater availability, in the context of rising demand, in allocating water to different sectors and meeting your societal and environmental priorities and your climate change mitigation and adaptation measures,” say the Leaders.
Reducing emissions. Water is essential for lowering emissions and capturing carbon. Water is a necessary feedstock for hydrogen production and to grow plants for biofuels. Well planned hydropower can provide clean energy at many locations while balancing with other water needs and minimizing social and environmental impacts. Solar and wind power can be stabilised through water management. Well-managed effluents and other wastewater enables reuse and reduces emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, as does well-managed water in paddy fields and other irrigation systems, wetlands and reservoirs.
Water service providers can also improve their water and energy efficiency, reduce their reliance on fossil fuels for their water treatment and distribution, and low emission pumping, desalination and water harvesting infrastructure can be promoted.
“We call on you to acknowledge the important contribution water can make to climate mitigation and adaptation and to emphasise this and the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring water and water-related ecosystems in the negotiated outcome document for COP27,” says the statement.
To achieve these benefits, governments need effective policies, knowledge and tools to manage water for multiple objectives in the rapidly changing climate. The Water and Climate Leaders have agreed an Action Plan for an Integrated Water and Climate Agenda proposes a global pathway to achieve this.
Today, 60 % of World Meteorological Organization Member States report declining capabilities in hydrological monitoring and thus in the provision of decision support in the water, food, and energy nexus. More than 50% of countries worldwide have no quality management system for their water-related data in place. Only about 40% of countries worldwide have good flood and drought early warning systems operational.
WMO will publish the first Annual State of Water report later this year, to increase understanding of water resources and the need for better water management. It will include information on streamflow, water storage, high impact hydrological events and the state of glaciers.