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World Water Day 2020: how water and climate change are ‎inextricably linked and how UNECE instruments help

Published: 22 March 2020

Water is crucial for climate change adaptation and mitigation, as well as health, hygiene, sustainable development and life. The global climate crisis is inextricably linked to water.: 90% of all disasters are water-related. Over two billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, while around four billion people face severe water scarcity for at least one month every year.

Climate change further increases variability in the water cycle, inducing extreme weather events, reducing the predictability of water availability, affecting water quality and threatening sustainable development, biodiversity and the enjoyment of the human rights to water and sanitation worldwide. Increasing water challenges could jeopardize the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, affecting SDGs ranging from climate action (Goal 13) and health (Goal 3), to life on land (Goal 15), zero hunger (Goal 2) sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11).

Therefore, in 2020, the World Water Day, celebrated on 22 March, is focused on water and climate change. UNECE, together with WMO and UNESCO in the framework of UN-Water was co-coordinating the preparations for the day. The campaign shows how our use of water can help reduce floods, droughts, scarcity and pollution, and help fight climate change itself.

By adapting to the water effects of climate change, we will protect health and save lives. And, by using water more efficiently, we can reduce greenhouse gases. Here the main messages:

  • We cannot afford to wait. Policy makers must put water at the heart of action plans;
  • Water can help fight climate change. There are sustainable, affordable and scalable water and sanitation solutions;
  • Everyone has a role to play.

The current pandemic of COVID-19 illustrates how important water, sanitation and hygiene are for preventing diseases. In this regard, the UNECE-WHO Regional Office for Europe Protocol on Water and Health supports countries in the UNECE region to undertake concrete action on water, sanitation, hygiene and health to uphold the human rights to clean water and sanitation under changing climate. Between 2010 and 2015, over 19 million people in the pan-European region gained access to basic drinking water sources, according to the data gathered within the mandatory reporting system under the Protocol.

Water and climate, does not respect borders: shared basins are home to more than 40% of the world’s population and account for an estimated 60% of global freshwater flow. Transboundary cooperation in adaption is therefore crucial to prevent neagtive impacts of unilateral adaptation measures and to harness the potential co-benefits of improved regional cooperation, such as reduced uncertainty due to exchange of data, peace and stability, enlarged planning space, and shared costs and benefits.

The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention), whose secretariat is hosted by UNECE, has been helping countries to jointly adapt to climate change in transboundary basins for more than 15 years through guidance development, exchange of experience and projects on the ground. Those guidances as well as capacity building and regular global workshops/ a network of basins working on the topic facilitated the development and implementation of numerous transboundary adaptation strategies and plans, such as in the Chu-Talas, the Danube, the Dniester, the Neman, the Rhine, the Mekong and the Niger, making 300 million people worldwide more resilient to climate change. More than 120 countries participate in the activities of this global Convention.

The World Water Day 2020 also provided an occasion to launch the World Water Development Report 2020, focused on water and climate change. UN-Water’s flagship report on water and sanitation issues, focusing on a different theme each year is published by UNESCO, on behalf of UN-Water and its production is coordinated by the UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme with contributions by more than 10 co-lead agencies, including UNECE.

The adoption of integrated adaptation and mitigation measures such as increasing water and energy efficiency, wasteware reuse or wetland protection, is a win-win proposition, conclude the authors of the report. They are clearly beneficial for the sustainable management of water resources and for the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. They also directly address the causes and consequences of climate change.

More information about the World Water Day 2020 is available at https://www.worldwaterday.org/.

The UN-Water Policy Brief on Climate Change and Water  is available at https://www.unwater.org/publications/un-water-policy-brief-on-climate-change-and-water/.

More infromaiton about the activities on climate change adaptaion in transboudanry basins of the Water Convention is available at https://www.unece.org/env/water/water_climate_activ.html.

World Water Development Report 2020 is available at https://en.unesco.org/themes/water-security/wwap/wwdr/2020.

More information about the Protocol on Water and Health is available at https://www.unece.org/env/water/pwh_text/text_protocol.html.


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