COP28: Did world leaders finally connect the drops on WASH and climate adaptation?
At the 28th UN conference on climate change, we saw water rise up the global climate agenda. But despite the COP28 President’s opening address acknowledging water as "critical to adaptation", significant opportunities to fund water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to ensure people can cope with the effects of climate change were missed across the summit.
An international WaterAid delegation from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Sweden and the UK attended COP28 in Dubai to highlight the stark links between the water crisis and the climate crisis, to amplify the voices of those on the frontlines, and to call for urgent leadership and investment for climate-resilient WASH.
In many communities, the climate crisis is making it even harder for people to find reliable sources of clean water, maintain good hygiene and keep sanitation systems functioning. These are basic human rights and essential to life, but there is not always widespread recognition that climate-resilient WASH systems and services are critical adaptation measures that can ensure communities thrive, despite droughts, floods and other extreme weather events.
Where did water feature on the COP agenda?
The topic of water featured during various moments of the official COP28 agenda, as well as in the programmes for thematic and national pavilions and side events.
The Food, Agriculture and Water Day featured the first-ever ministerial dialogue on building water-resilient food systems. Food security is, of course, vital, but it dominated discussions on the day, overshadowing the integral role of water in ensuring everyone has enough food to survive.
The Global Stocktake
The first ever Global Stocktake, which measures progress made by countries to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, highlighted that the world is drastically off-target in efforts to limit the global temperature increase to below 1.5C. Following calls from the COP28 presidency to find new and “ambitious’’ ways forward, the outcomes of the first Global Stocktake chart a new era of climate action.
This includes “significantly reducing climate-induced water scarcity and enhancing climate resilience to water-related hazards towards a climate-resilient water supply, climate-resilient sanitation and access to safe and affordable potable water for all”. Overall, however, there is a greater focus in the stocktake on water within the natural environment and broader water systems, rather than on water in the sense of WASH for humankind.
The Global Goal on Adaptation
For those on the frontlines of the climate crisis, negotiations around the Global Goal on Adaptation represented a significant moment in COP history. The creation of the GGA was first agreed at COP21 in 2015, but it is only now that countries have settled on a framework for the goal. Crucially, it includes action on climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene, something that we and other sector peers have been calling for.
The inclusion of sanitation also presents a significant milestone in efforts for it to be recognised as a climate adaptation measure, especially given that progress on ensuring everyone, everywhere has access to safely managed sanitation services is woefully behind progress on universal access to clean water.
Other positive strides are the inclusion of a target to reduce climate-induced water scarcity and enhance climate-resilient water supply and sanitation by 2030 and beyond. However, the process of measuring progress on the GGA remains undefined, and timeframes are far too long for those already bearing the brunt of the climate and water crises.
We are still not seeing enough prioritisation and concrete action on climate adaptation, as was highlighted by many small-island nations and low- and middle-income countries at the closing plenary of COP28.
Loss and Damage
Bringing the Loss and Damage fund into operation may have been agreed swiftly on day one of COP28, but the funding pledged by some of the world’s richest nations still represents a woefully small proportion of what is needed by those on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
In climate-vulnerable countries where we work, such as Bangladesh, Madagascar, Mozambique and Pakistan, the climate crisis has already destroyed homes, healthcare infrastructure, and water, sanitation and hygiene systems. This has already threatened millions of lives and will continue to do so without strong action on climate adaptation.
Finance for water and adaptation
Calling for greater investment in water, sanitation and hygiene for communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis was a central part of our activity at COP28, and that of the Resilient Water Accelerator.
Finance Day saw several climate adaptation pledges from rich country governments, but nowhere near enough to meet the shortfalls that adaptation finance requires. As low- and middle- income country governments reminded richer nations at COP28, funding for adaptation is far too little, and trickling down far too slowly.
Through the Resilient Water Accelerator and our own programmes, we have demonstrated the power of water as a low-regrets adaptation solution, helping communities to address the immediate threats of the climate crisis, and to build long-term climate resilience. Rich governments must more than double the amount of public finance for climate adaptation, and until we see significantly more funding flowing down to vulnerable communities, we will keep demanding more urgent action.
Despite WASH not receiving enough attention as crucial adaptation measures, clear progress has been made between COP27 and COP28.
As we hear louder and louder calls for much greater investment in adaptation, particularly from governments in low- and middle-income countries, we will continue to encourage world leaders to acknowledge the vital importance of water, sanitation and hygiene as climate adaptation solutions, and provide adequate and accessible funding for these essential services. We will also continue to push for robust frameworks to implement and measure initiatives, such as the Global Goal on Adaptation, and for the voices of the communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis to be heard.
Lucy Graham is WaterAid's Advocacy Communications Manager for Climate.
Top image: WaterAid delegates show messages on placards at COP28. Left to right: Caroline Maxwell, Amir Saïd M'zé, Helio Guiliche, Samia Anwar Rafa, Adnan Qader, Gebre Belete.