The climate crisis is a water crisis. At COP28, we urged world leaders to invest in climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) without delay to ensure people can adapt to the impacts of climate change.

From 30 November – 12 December 2023, world leaders met in Dubai for the 28th UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) to move forward global and national plans to tackle the climate crisis.  

Our international delegation – which included colleagues from WaterAid, the Resilient Water Accelerator and local advocates from communities we work with – attended the summit to call for urgent leadership and investment in climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene services, to ensure communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change can thrive.

WaterAid delegates show messages on placards at COP28.
WaterAid delegates show messages on placards at COP28. Left to right: Saief Manzoor-Al-Islam, Samia Anwar Rafa, Amir Saïd M'zé, Adnan Qader and Hantaniaina Rabesandratana.

What do the outcomes of COP28 mean for communities?

Water, as a climate change adaptation solution, crept up the agenda at COP28:

  • Countries agreed on the framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation, and crucially, action towards climate-resilient water and sanitation is listed as the first target. This will help countries develop plans and allocate the necessary resources to turn the framework into action.
  • On the Food, Agriculture and Water Day, the UK government announced £39 million in new funding for the Just Transitions for Water Security programme. The Resilient Water Accelerator will receive £11 million of this funding as a leading partner. This is a welcome step in ensuring communities have the investment in the water systems and services they need.
  • However, the financial commitments made by countries for climate adaptation were far too little, and funds are still reaching communities far too slowly. This denies people of their basic human rights to water, sanitation and hygiene. World leaders must continue to acknowledge the vital importance of WASH for climate change adaptation and provide adequate and accessible funding for these essential services.

Read more in our COP28 summary blog

Why is climate-resilient WASH so important?

For many people around the world, climate change is not a future threat. It’s a daily reality.

The climate crisis is making it even harder for people who are already struggling to find reliable sources of clean water to drink, to maintain good hygiene and keep sanitation systems working. These are basic human rights.

Climate-resilient WASH systems and services can help communities thrive, despite droughts, floods and other extreme weather events.

Read more in our climate-resilient WASH explainer

The world could face a 40% shortfall in fresh water by 2030.

By 2040, almost one in four children will live in an area of extremely high water stress.

Investing in water in low and middle income countries could deliver $500 billion a year in economic benefits.

How did we highlight the importance of WASH at COP28?

We highlighted the vital role of water, sanitation and hygiene in tackling the climate crisis, including:

  • Calling for world leaders to take immediate action and invest in climate-resilient WASH services, to ensure communities can adapt to our changing climate.
  • Co-leading the Water for Climate Pavilion's thematic day on the importance of including water in national adaptation plans, in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization and WWF-US.
  • Hosting side events and providing expert insights on strengthening community resilience to climate change and investing in climate adaptation, including in collaboration with the Sustainable Markets Initiative and our corporate partners.
  • Amplifying the voices of those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis – whose houses are flooding, whose crops are drying out and whose lives are being destroyed.

In the lead up to COP29, we will continue to push for greater and more accessible funding for WASH as an adaptation solution; for robust frameworks to implement and measure initiatives such as the Global Goal on Adaptation; and for the people on the frontlines of the crisis to be heard. There’s no time to waste.

Top image: The sun begins to rise as (L-R) Volasoavinonje (23), Tohanay (18), Mahazosoa (21), Lohantany (60) and Damy (44) begin their long walk to collect water from the Mandrare river, Amboasary District, Madagascar.