At the UN's Climate Change conference in November 2021, WaterAid called on governments to recognise the critical role clean water plays in helping communities to cope with climate change and recover from extreme weather events. 

In November 2021, the UK government hosted the UN Climate Change Conference – also known as COP26 – in Glasgow. Hundreds of world leaders came together to agree plans on how to tackle the climate crisis.

Why was COP26 important?

COP26 was the deadline for countries to present their initial plans on how they’ll achieve the climate goals agreed as part of the Paris Agreement at COP21 in 2015. Together, these plans need to set the world on track to stop global temperatures rising by more than 1.5ºC by the end of the century.

In 2015, wealthy nations also promised $100 billion a year to help the least developed countries reduce their emissions and protect themselves against the impacts of climate change. There has been much talk about delivering climate finance among donor governments since the Paris Agreement; COP26 was a chance to hold them to account and make sure that developing countries get a fair deal.

Around 74% of natural disasters between 2001 and 2018 were water related

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

Basic water, sanitation and hygiene programmes receive less than 1% of global climate finance

WaterAid at COP26

Climate change is making it even harder for the world’s poorest people to get clean water.

Already, 1 in 10 people worldwide don’t have a reliable source of clean water. And the more our climate changes, the more challenging this becomes. More frequent and extreme flooding is polluting water sources, while longer and more severe droughts mean that wells and springs are running dry.

Kadija and her sister Ansha carry water from the River Lah in Ethiopia.
Kadija and her sister Ansha carry water from the River Lah in Ethiopia.
WaterAid/Joey Lawrence

The climate change agenda is dominated by how countries plan to cut carbon emissions. But it’s vital that international talks also address how we help those experiencing the effects of climate change right now.

At COP26, WaterAid called on governments to recognise the critical role that clean water has in helping communities to cope with climate change and recover from extreme weather events. 

We also called for:

  • governments to do more to help people who are experiencing the effects of climate change right now. This means increasing funding for clean water, sanitation and hygiene.

  • high-income countries to fulfil their responsibility to provide new and additional climate finance, and ensure that the international community is on track to deliver on the $100 billion global pledge agreed on at COP21.

  • donors to prioritise spending to help people and communities adapt to climate change, ensuring it amounts to at least 50% of overall climate finance. As part of this, we also called for climate finance to be made available for water, sanitation and hygiene services that underpin climate resilience.

  • governments of low and middle-income countries - especially those already experiencing high levels of water stress combined with low access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services - to address current and future threats to water as part of their national climate action plans.

  • climate finance to be made more accessible to the least developed countries, and the vulnerable communities within them. This means that donors and development agencies should engage with marginalised groups and local stakeholders who are facing water insecurity, to make sure their voices are included in decisions that directly impact their lives.

WaterAid and partner events at COP26

In a first for a UN climate change conference, COP26 had a Water Pavillion, of which WaterAid was a core partner. WaterAid staff from across the world spoke at a number of side events - either in person or virtually – to highlight the links between climate change and the water, sanitation and hygiene crisis. Catch up on the events at the links below.

Top image: Leticia Jesayu, 55, walks across a dried landscape to collect water in Puloichon, La Sabana, Colombia. January 2021.