28 March 2019
High-level Event Considers Interlinkages Between Water and Climate
UN Photo/Mark Garten
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Participants discussed connections between water and climate change, including the fact that, while climate change mitigation is about GHG emissions, adaptation is about water.

Speakers also discussed the interlinkages of water and climate issues with policy areas such as disasters, food, conflict, migration, and biodiversity.

27 March 2019: A high-level event on interlinkages between water and climate action convened on the eve of the UN General Assembly (UNGA)-mandated meeting titled, ‘High-level Meeting: Climate Protection for All.’ The event discussed the interlinkages between SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and SDG 13 (climate action), with speakers focusing on links between water scarcity, displacement, ecosystem services, and climate change adaptation, among other issues.

Mahamadamin Mahmadaminov, Permanent Representative of Tajikistan to the UN, moderated the opening panel. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the UNGA, opened the meeting. She stressed the need to address water issues in order to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development the need to adopt integrated approaches for managing water and climate action.

Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, said the UN Climate Summit in September 2019 offers an opportunity to change our future and focus on the 1.5°C target. He said the High Ambition Coalition is seeking to secure commitments to enhance Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and underscored that the major economies need to live up to their commitments, and adaption needs to be a priority.

Sirojiddin Muhriddin, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tajikistan, highlighted the need for water cooperation in his region, and noted the role that initiatives such as the ‘International Decade (2018–2028) for Action – Water for Sustainable Development’ (Water Action Decade) play in providing a platform for global cooperation.

Luis Alfonso de Alba, Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit, discussed the preparations for the September Climate Summit, noting that nine coalitions have been created and that the “coalitions need to be action-oriented.”

Nezha El Ouafi, Secretary of State to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Sustainable Development, Morocco, highlighted national efforts aimed at water saving and waste water treatment, and stressed the role that the water sector has to play in climate change policies.

Koro Bessho, Permanent Mission of Japan to the UN, stressed the links between water and health objectives, and water and disasters. He said Japan is co-sponsoring an event on water and disasters that will convene in June.

Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the UN, noted that water issues are region-specific, and efforts to address climate change and water therefore need to be undertaken with the specific context in mind.

Burhan Gafoor, Permanent Representative of Singapore to the UN, stressed the need to address water and climate interlinkages during both the SDG Summit and Climate Summit. He reviewed Singapore’s efforts to minimize carbon emissions in its water access efforts, with the objective of halving the energy needed for desalination. He also noted efforts to achieve 60% recycling of wastewater.

Jürg Lauber, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the UN, noted that the effects of climate change will be felt through water, and said water can be an entry point and a connector. He stressed that the “only alternative to water is water,” and said the climate transition should be viewed with water issues “at the forefront of our minds.”

Norma Kassi, Director, Indigenous Collaboration, Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research, Canada, said her constituency is “a place-based people of the land and waters around us,” and their very existence is being turned upside down because these “people of the lakes” are under threat. She stressed that water is an essential human right.

Vladimir Smakhtin, Coordinator of the UN-Water Task Force on Water Action Decade Implementation, on behalf of the UN-Water Chair, said that while climate change mitigation is about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, adaptation is about water. He informed participants that UN-Water’s members are developing a brief on the linkages between SDG 6 and SDG 13 to be launched at the July meeting of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

The only alternative to water is water.

A panel on ‘Water and Climate Action’ was moderated by Sirojiddin Muhriddin. Hussain Rasheed Hassan, Minister of Environment, Maldives, highlighted the importance of partnerships, including for technology transfer and capacity building.

Yassmin Fouad, Minister of Environment, Egypt, stressed that climate change is a developmental challenge and not just an environmental challenge. As President of the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 14) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), she noted links with biodiversity and national efforts to inform citizens about climate, water, and biodiversity challenges. She stressed the role of national adaptation planning in addressing vulnerable ecosystems.

Sergio Costa, Minister of the Environment, Italy, highlighted that water is a key emblem in all cultures, philosophies, and religions, and stressed that it is a priority issue for the international community to address. He called attention to the need to address water access issues, particularly for those who are discriminated against. Costa said Italy will provide instruction and training on climate change at all school levels. He called attention to his country’s bid to host UNFCCC COP 26 in 2020.

Martha Delgado, Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mexico, said the alteration of hydrological cycles must be considered in addressing climate change. She said integrated water resource management is a key part of Mexico’s NDC, including efforts to reduce the water sector’s emissions. She also said Mexico seeks to reach zero net deforestation, which will affect aquifer recharging.

Patrick Suckling, Ambassador for Environment, Australia, noted that Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the world. He said its iterative and evolving approach to water management follows a science- and evidence-based approach that involves community participation and engagement. He also said that Australia is looking at the nexus between water, food, and climate.

During the discussion, Hungary announced it will host the third Budapest water summit in 2019.

Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), moderated a panel on ‘Means of Implementation.’

Jennifer Sara, Senior Director, Water Global Practice, World Bank Group, highlighted the World Bank’s collaboration with the UN on the High Level Panel on Water. She called attention to a recently launched report on infrastructure, and stressed the need to set targets and align staff to make progress. Sara said we need to place water as an action item in the adaptation agenda.

Maria Donoso, Director of the Division of Water Sciences, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Secretary of the International Hydrological Programme (IHP), called attention to UNESCO’s international initiatives on floods and desertification, and a regional working group on snow and ice, among others.

Taikan Oki, Vice Rector, UN University (UNU), highlighted groundwater issues, and recalled that, during the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) era, increased access to improved water resources was associated with development progress.

Kavita Prakash-Mani, Global Conservation Director, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), stressed the role of nature-based solutions in addressing water and climate challenges, noting the role of mangroves, lakes, and wetlands in adaptation.

Paul Fleming, Corporate Water Program Lead, Microsoft, discussed his company’s efforts to minimize the impacts of its operations, and noted plans to develop partnerships to drive collective action to invest in water issues beyond the company.

During the discussion, the EU emphasized the need to pay attention to tradeoffs, stressing the importance of good regulatory frameworks, research, and innovation to address these challenges. Speakers also called attention to the 2020 UN Ocean Conference and the 2021 and 2023 meetings on water as opportunities to discuss related issues.

The event was organized by the Permanent Missions of Tajikistan, Japan, Canada, Morocco, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Singapore, and Switzerland, and DESA, with the support of UN-Water. It took place at UN Headquarters in New York, US, on 27 March 2019.

The UNGA adopted in December 2016 a resolution to organize the Water Action Decade. In December 2018, UNGA 73 adopted the resolution on the midterm comprehensive review of this Water Action Decade, and called for two high-level meetings on water and sanitation in 2021 and 2023. The high-level event on 27 March 2019 will feed into the Water Action Decade as well as the 28 March 2019 high-level meeting on ‘Climate Protection for All,’ as it begins looking towards the high-level meetings in 2021 and 2023. [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]

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