Policy agreements on climate change must take water into account: UN report

Climate change will further strain water-stressed countries, create similar problems in regions not severely affected so far, the report stated

By Shagun
Published: Saturday 21 March 2020
Climate change and its effect on water. Source: Flickr

Climate change will not only strain water-stressed countries, but also create similar problems in regions that have not been severely affected so far, according to a United Nations World Water Development report released on March 21, 2020.

The report highlighted that international policy frameworks addressing climate change must take water into account, as water is the key to reducing carbon emissions.

The report noted: “International policy frameworks don’t take water into account for dealing with climate change as fundamental detachments between water management and international policy remain prevalent”. 

According to Audrey Azoulay, Director-General, UNESCO, ‘water’ word rarely appeared in international climate agreements.

The report pointed to increasing frequency and intensity of extreme events such as storms, floods and droughts as a result of climate change.

In the last century, water use has increased six-fold and continues to increase by about one per cent every year. In such a scenario, climate change will affect the availability, quality and quantity of water needed for basic human needs, stated the report.

The UN theme for Water Day 2020 was ‘Water and Climate Change’. The report explored how the two issues are inextricably linked.

“Deterioration of the situation would hinder achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 6, a part of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, according to which access to safe drinking water and sanitation must be guaranteed for all within ten years,” the report noted.

It added that with 2.2 billion people without access to safe water and 4.2 billion without safe sanitation, accomplishing SDG 6 goals would be a challenge.

At the international level, a number of global frameworks such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (with its 17 SDGs, including specific goals for water and for combating climate change), 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction have been adopted to address these challenges.

Even though these have set ambitious goals and targets, actual progress is lagging, especially in ways the agreements address water and climate change, said the report.

During the 2018 July session of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, member countries acknowledged that SDGs were being addressed in a siloed manner.

While reviewing SDG 6, it added that they were not on track to meet the targets, particularly for the poor communities.

According to the report:

As such, failure to adapt to climate change not only puts the realisation of SDG 6 at risk, it also jeopardises the achievement of other SDGs. And while SDG 13 includes specific targets and indicators, there is no formal mechanism linking SDG 13 to the goals of the Paris Agreement, resulting in parallel processes.

Talking about nationally determined contributions (NDCs) submitted under the Paris Agreement, the report said they remain ‘general in nature’ without proposing specific plans for water.

“While a majority of countries recognise water in their portfolio of actions, a few have actually calculated the costs of these actions. Even fewer have put forward specific projects. Meanwhile, possibilities for synergies between adaptation and mitigation measures are often neglected,” it said.

They authors added that adapting to an increasingly variable climate was the key and called on the states to make “more concrete commitments to address the challenge”.


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