Water – how to mobilise enough action on this crux adaptation issue?

Source(s): Climate and Development Knowledge Network

Dr Merylyn Hedger, ODI Senior Research Associate, says that climate finance provides a major opportunity to invest in more resilient water systems. However, climate financiers need a more holistic view of water management than they have demonstrated so far. Partnership with experienced water sector professionals in countries could provide the missing piece of the puzzle.

As the impacts of climate change become ever more tangible, and global concentrations of greenhouse gases continue to rise, adaptation has been climbing the agenda with new important decisions at COP24 in Katowice. The UNFCCC is now balancing adaptation better with the mitigation agenda and giving more attention to adaptation policy frameworks and financial mechanisms.

Climate change impacts on water are at the crux of all adaptation problems. Unsustainable levels of water are being extracted from many of the world’s fresh water ecosystems and water security is recognised as a major global security risk. New science from the IPCC shows that global water problems have been exacerbated by climate change. However, as shown in ODI’s Climate change and water: Finance needs to flood, not drip, there are still considerable uncertainties about how the necessary increased investments are to be developed, planned and funded.

At the Katowice COP, water sector professionals, led by the Global Water Partnership – a global network of 3,000 organisations, including 63 country partnerships – drew attention to “The Untold Story of Water” in national climate plans and launched a policy brief about this crucial opportunity.

Climate change arrives on top of the unfinished development agenda on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH): SDG 6 calls for delivery of drinking water and sanitation by 2030 to the 2 billion people who lack access to safely managed drinking water and 4.5 billion people who are without sanitation services.

In the UNFCCC Secretariat’s own synthesis of the first round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which captures the submissions of 161 parties, water emerges as the leading sector for adaptation actions. Water is emphasised in the NDCs of 137 developing countries.

The international community of water professionals suggest that their climate policy counterparts look to them for inspiration. Over the past 20 years, water organisations have supported countries as they built the laws and institutions needed for managing water – they have learned that this is the only way that successful investments in water infrastructure can be achieved. But is this experience and know-how yet fully integrated with the implementation of NDCs, and if not, how can that happen?

One major challenge is that the climate negotiations deal with generic issues at international level. This is very evident if the case of agriculture is considered. Whilst food production lies at the heart of the critical Article 2 of the Paris Agreement (which covers the temperature goal of 1.5 degrees, finance, adaptation and equity), the UNFCCC has only tackled agriculture laboriously and in a technical way via a long series of in-session workshops over several years. Basically, policy is dealt with at country level, which national governments vigorously defend. Yet from the outside, the water community sees the geo-political momentum around the UNFCCC process and feels it is being left out somehow and that the climate community doesn’t give water the attention it deserves.

Looking at climate-financed water investment, it is clear that the current focus on projects and the lack of an integrated river basin management approach could well cause issues further down the line. Many investments in the water sector through climate finance channels occur in isolation, without taking the whole basin into account. And, each funding mechanism classifies water investments in a different way, so it is very difficult to track what’s happening. This is complicated by the fact that each country has different perspectives on actions in the water sector and their relationships with other sectors, such as agriculture. What coding systems that do exist also do not facilitate analysis of beneficiaries, so it is difficult to tell who will be provided with greater water security and who may lose out.

What is the way forward?

International action

It is recognised that greater coherence is needed among international fora on water: (World Water Council, World Water Forum, UN Water, World Water Week and various OECD initiatives). These all operate in different spheres from the UNFCCC. However, analyses show that there are close alignments with the cross-cutting UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 (WASH) agenda. And, across the range of Sustainable Development Goals, water has large synergies with not only the climate change adaptation agenda but also the climate mitigation agendas. For example, more efficient use of water reduces the need for pumped irrigation and wastewater treatment.

High-level mediating mechanisms are needed between the water and climate frameworks, at international level, to pinpoint critical blockages and drive forward funding on long-term solutions, principally integrated water resources planning. SDG6 explicitly defines a target (6.5.1 on “integrating water resources management”) as the pathway towards a water-secure world. With ever more attention focused on “blended finance” perhaps new ideas from the World Economic Forum will produce innovative approaches.

National action

It is above all at country level where most can be achieved in terms of delivery. National Governments hold the key to framing the complicated implementation programme, which involves securing external funding, integrating domestic spend and accessing external support (finance and technical). Action agendas outlined in NDCs need specific finance, technology and capacity building. For water there is a need to create capacity to understand water resources and how climate change will impact.

A vital need is for for countries to decide what their water adaptation needs are and turn their NDCs into concrete action plans and project proposals, linking across to National Adaptation Plans and development plans. There are now new initiatives aiming to facilitate this, notably the Project Preparation Partnership for Climate Resilient Water Projects launched by GWP. CDKN and GWP also joined forces to boost capacity for climate resilient water management in Africa – a CDKN short film describes progress thus far.

For water, most countries have also established multi-stakeholder platforms that can be mobilised for integrated decision-making. The GWP’s interactive world map provides a good overview of national platforms and initiatives and is a starting point for exploring how the water and climate change agendas could be more effectively integrated at national level in the future.

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