What happened at COP27, and what does it mean for water, sanitation and hygiene?
At the UN climate change conference, we amplified the voices of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis, particularly women and girls, and highlighted the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as climate change adaptation solutions.
Climate change is often experienced through water – whether too much, like the devastating floods in Pakistan, or too little, like the relentless drought currently being experienced in parts of the Horn of Africa.
The promises made at COP27 this month still leave millions of people worldwide with an uncertain future, especially when it comes to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.
Our approach to COP27
At COP27, our international delegation prioritised advocating WASH as an effective climate change adaptation solution. This year, our activities extended beyond the Water Pavilion, ensuring widespread engagement on WASH issues across multiple national pavilions and other spaces.
Delegates amplified the voices of those already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change and called for the most affected – often women and girls – to have a seat at the decision-making table at all levels.
What the outcomes of COP27 mean for WaterAid
Water and WASH in the climate discussions
For the first time at COP, the final declaration mentioned water. The Sharm el Sheikh Adaptation Agenda (released by the COP27 Presidency and the Marrakesh Partnership) lists 30 adaptation targets for 2030, two of which are water and sanitation services.
Despite this, the mentions of water did not go far enough to address the water-related impacts of, or solutions to, climate change. Nor were the links between climate change and resilient WASH services for people prioritised – even though they are essential basic services and human rights required at community and household levels for people to survive and thrive. As we move forward, WaterAid and our partners must continue to argue for the climate narrative to include WASH as a vital part of climate change adaptation.
Financing for adaptation
2022 saw several governments make new funding commitments and prioritisation for climate change adaptation (e.g. USA, Australia, Germany) while others are delivering COP26 commitments (e.g. Canada) or re-announcing previous funding commitments (e.g. UK).
Despite the commitment of more funding for adaptation, what is being promised is still nowhere near enough to support effective adaptation for the poorest and most at-risk countries. Adapting to climate change will become increasingly costly if there is further delay.
Mitigation and 1.5 degrees
The updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) plans did not have the level of ambition needed to meet the 1.5°C or even 2°C goal. Much more will need to be done to reduce loss and damage caused by further increases in global temperatures, and investments must be made in adaptation as people continue to experience the consequences of this temperature rise.
Loss and Damage
Many of the countries we work in are already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change, so we welcome the historic progress made on the issue of ‘Loss and Damage’ that developing countries and activists called for. We support the ‘Loss and Damage’ fund that will be created, which will help countries who have contributed the least to emissions to recover from damage and losses already experienced as a result of climate change. It is essential that funding is provided quickly to address the significant losses and damage that many vulnerable communities are already suffering.
There is still significant progress to be made on inclusive decision making. This year at COP we focused on the links between gender, climate and WASH, drawing attention to the vital roles of women in the fight against climate change – as those on the frontlines of the crisis, and as those developing adaptation strategies in their communities. But women can only fulfil these roles effectively if they are present at all levels of decision making – community, national and global. Of the 110 world leaders who attended COP27, fewer than ten were women. We will continue to amplify the voices of women on the frontlines of the climate crisis and at all levels of decision making.
Maintaining momentum on climate change commitments
Attention now turns to continuing this momentum and holding leaders to account to deliver on their promises. In March, decision makers and private sector and development partners will come together for the UN Water Conference, the first of its kind since 1977 and an event that aspires to be a watershed moment for accelerating progress on the WASH crisis. We will continue there to amplify the voices of those who still do not have access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.
Lucy Graham is Senior Partnership Communications Advisor at WaterAid UK.
Top image: Members of the WaterAid delegation speak at an event at COP27.