Water management is critical to COP27 and climate mitigation action

When the next UN Climate Change Conference opens in Sharm El-Sheikh 6-18 November it will be amid fears that the world is less committed to climate action than a year ago. At COP26 in Glasgow countries still said they would deliver emission cuts that could keep global warming below a 1.5-degree temperature increase. But according to a new report from UN Climate Change, we are instead headed for a 10-percent increase by 2030.

Growing geopolitical tensions, rising food prices, turbulent energy markets and inflation seem to have put climate action on the back burner – again. But in today’s complex world we cannot only effectively address the many challenges we face by understanding how they are interlinked, and that this often is through water. On a more positive note, this also means that many of the problems can be most effectively tackled by improving the management of water.

New research shows the importance of water in climate mitigation

The Sixth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that the water cycle is more sensitive to global warming than expected, with a surge in droughts, floods and storms already at today’s one-degree temperature increase. The weather extremes will accelerate as temperatures rise, making it more difficult to get freshwater, grow food and produce energy.

At COP27, the first report that summarizes the role of water in climate mitigation, will be presented. The essential drop to reach Net-Zero: Unpacking Freshwater’s Role in Climate Change Mitigation. The report describes the interconnection between climate, water, food, and energy, arguing that this calls for a new approach where these challenges must be addressed jointly.

A better understanding of the role of nature

There is a growing body of research on how water scarcity is putting additional pressure on already degraded ecosystems, which risk flipping them from binding and storing greenhouse gases to instead increasing emissions. To prevent this from happening, ecosystems must urgently be protected and restored. It is critical to understand how land, freshwater and oceans are interconnected so that they are managed holistically, from source to sea.

The role of nature and nature-based solutions in developing solutions for freshwater, greenhouse gas storage and healthy ecosystems needs to be more explicit at COP27.

More focus on implementation and adaptation

In practice, since climate change is primarily felt in the form of too much, too little or too polluted water, adaptation requires investments in the management of water. The report on water and climate mitigation points to a wide range of solutions that simultaneously increase resilience to the effects of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Stronger calls for just climate financing

The question of implementation and adaptation is obviously closed linked to the question of resources and financing. Despite an intense debate, high-income countries have not yet described how they will contribute to the agreed $100bn per year to help “less wealthy” nations reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.  Investments in access to water and sanitation, in early-warning systems, in resilient food systems and in natural buffers against extreme weather are some of the most effective measures for long-term resilience that could help close the growing global gaps.

 The Egyptian presidency prioritizes water

The government of Egypt from the beginning highlighted water as a priority area within its own action agenda, giving water a specific day in the programme, on 14 November.  At COP27, the world needs to rethink climate action and focus on how it can be addressed together with the other challenges we are currently facing. A starting point could be with water management.

COP27 WATER SECURITY-DOC-01-EGY-10-22-EN.pdf

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The Water Forum has commissioned research on the potential impact of climate change on water resources in Ireland and we are preparing a podcast for Science Week on the topic.

More on this next week.

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