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  • Bebe Schaefer

COP26 Takeaways: Water

The COP26 Conference brought together some of the world's greatest minds to brainstorm and negotiate global climate solutions. COP26 began on October 31st and ended on November 12th. The conference included topics ranging from high sea tides to net zero carbon emissions. Water is essential to this conversation, and yet it was not talked about nearly enough.

According to the UN World Water Development Report 2020, “Water is the ‘climate connector’ that allows for greater collaboration and coordination across the majority of targets for climate change.”

Water and Climate Coalition The Water and Climate Coalition officially launched at COP26. They aim to bring to light how the climate and Water crisis are manifestations of the same problem. The coalition aims to both prevent the world from drowning and facing dehydration. The Water and Climate Coalition will work together in the organizational structure shown in Figure 1. The coalition will bring together some of the most impactful global leaders to solve this crisis.

Figure 1

Hungarian President János Áder, one of the world leaders behind the new coalition states that about 90% of people live in countries that share Freshwater resources with neighboring states, and for 60% of these there is no existing agreement on equitable sharing. Further, around 80% of climate impacts are manifested through extreme precipitation, drought, melting ice, and sea level rising. “If we are unable to resolve the Water crisis, reaching the sustainable development goals will be difficult or impossible,” Áder said.

By 2030, the coalition aims to create a global Water observation system. This system is very similar to the World Meteorological Organization’s existing climate and weather-monitoring system, and ultimately they hope to integrate the two. As we know, Water and Climate are not separate issues although they are treated as such, therefore this coalition aims to change that. Another member is Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon, who speaks of the Republic of Tajikistan rapidly losing its glaciers to global warming. Tajikistan further wants to declare 2025 the International Year of Glacier Preservation. Read more: COP26 news: Countries pledge to cut methane and work together on water Water and Climate Coalition: Homepage Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS) The Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS) was established by the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) with support from Member Countries and organizations and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) representatives. Countries including the UK, India, Australia, Fiji, Jamaica, and Mauritius announced this initiative to help communities that are slowly becoming submerged due to rising sea levels. “The global mean sea level rise was 2.1 millimeters a year between 1993 and 2002 and 4.4 mm a year between 2013 and 2021, a 2x increase between these periods is due to melting glaciers and ice sheets” (WMO State of the Global Climate 2021 report).

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are dealing with the brunt of this disaster. This new initiative hopes to support SIDS in developing a sustainable systemic approach focused on resilient and inclusive infrastructure. The intended “inclusive” nature of this planned infrastructure will include gender equality and disability inclusion, which is key to the climate crisis as women are disproportionately affected by climate change. The UK has already pledged to contribute £10 million in the beginning stages of the IRIS plans. Read more: COP26 news: Countries pledge to cut methane and work together on water Launch of 'Infrastructure for Resilient Island States' (IRIS) at COP26 Water and Climate Pavilion The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) led the effort to organize a Water and Climate Pavilion at COP26. The Pavilion utilized digital platforms and tools to bring together the virtual and in-person community in attendance. The Pavilion included dialogues, capacity-building and strategy workshops, and plenty of networking opportunities. The Pavilion presented an opportunity for Water stakeholders to join together and continue our efforts towards a Water-safe future.

“At COP26, SIWI and other organizations held the first-ever Water Pavilion to help negotiators and others understand the role of water in many different types of climate decisions. The pavilion was a clear success, and we see a strong need to continue this advocacy. It is crucial that decision-makers understand the connection between water and climate,” - SIWI Executive Director Torgny Holmgren Read More: Water Pavilion at COP26 - SIWI Water Tracker for National Climate Planning The Water Tracker questionnaire is a self assessment list that includes a series of questions aimed at figuring out where Water is placed in climate solutions for the future. Some of the questions explore Water through risk, resources, and analyzing the institutional and government structures that exist for Water management and conservation. The goals of this tracker include building Water resilience in an intersectional effort to cope with the climate crisis. The Water tracker was developed in a collaborative effort by international experts, communities, and leaders. The pilot version will be tested in Egypt, Costa Rica, and Malawi in its initial stages. With so much effort being focused on climate resilience plans, Water is often left out of this conversation and the Water Tracker brings it closer to the foreground of our global conversation. Read More: FEATURE: Launch of new tool at COP26 for countries to integrate water resilience into national climate plans Water Tracker for National Climate Planning — Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) Discussion There was not nearly not enough time spent discussing Water at COP26 compared to other climate issues. Although the inclusion of Water in climate talks is a huge step forward, there is plenty of work to be done to achieve the understanding of the interconnectedness between Water and climate. In approaching our Water Crisis we must make sure we are not ignoring any details which could lead to possible innovations and solutions. Despite the single fact that the ocean remains our largest carbon sink in existence, Water is still not a global focus.

“The ocean absorbed around 23% of the annual emissions of anthropogenic CO2 to the atmosphere and so, has become more acidic. Open ocean surface pH declined globally over the last 40 years; it is now the lowest it has been in at least 26,000 years. As the pH of the ocean decreases, its capacity to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere also declines” (WMO State of the Global Climate 2021 report).

While climate and Water issues are inherently intertwined, there were limited days during COP26 that extensively covered Water-specific issues opposed to those dedicated to mainly climate related issues. However, the advancements showcased in COP26 project a Water-safe future where all people regardless of location can work together to solve these problems. The facts of the Water Crisis should worry us, but they will not deter us. We must begin to view Water and climate as an interconnected issue, not separate catastrophes. When one is helped, the other will be too.

Water& recognizes COP26 as a starting point in solving our global Water Crisis. This is just one step in a journey that we will take together, and we will make sure to update our community on the action that follows this conference.


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