Ministers and other high-level officials discussed how actions to address water and climate change can drive progress on the 2030 Agenda. The online event was organized under the framework of the Water Action Decade, and in support of the implementation of the Decade of Action for the SDGs. In addition to synergies between action to address SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and SDG 13 (climate action), speakers also drew linkages with security issues, the need to bring the freshwater and saltwater communities together, and the importance of technology.

Titled, ‘Accelerating implementation of the 2030 Agenda through water, sanitation and climate action,’ the event on 29 May 2020 was co-organized by the Permanent Missions of Canada, Finland, Hungary, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, and Tajikistan, and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), with the support of UN-Water.

A key point of discussion during the event was the SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework. The Framework is being developed by UN-Water and will be launched during a special event on the side of the July 2020 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

Water, sanitation and climate solutions to accelerate progress on the 2030 Agenda

Mahmadamin Mahmadaminov, Permanent Representative of Tajikistan to the UN, moderated the opening session. He highlighted that water is a key to mastering the COVID-19 pandemic and for building resilience to address the crisis. Sirojiddin Muhriddin, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tajikistan, said countries must come together in order to make progress, especially when water is shared among communities and countries.

Karina Gould, Minister of International Development, Canada, said Canada is exploring how to improve watershed management, ecosystems protection, and climate action. She noted that Canada and Mexico are co-leading the “nature-based solutions” action track under the Global Commission on Adaptation, and she emphasized the links between water and security.

Krista Mikkonen, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Finland, stressed the importance of transboundary cooperation.

João Pedro Matos Fernandes, Minister of Environment and Climate Action, Portugal, reviewed Portugal’s plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and stressed the need to make adaptation a top priority. He said more reflection is needed between the freshwater and saltwater communities, and said Portugal will organize such a discussion during the next UN Ocean Conference.

On behalf of Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Netherlands, Karel van Oosterom, Permanent Representative for the Netherlands, called for investing in a green economy and assisting vulnerable communities, and for adopting transparent, participatory and accountable community-driven solutions.

Katalin Annamária Bogyay, Permanent Representative of Hungary, stressed the need for clean water and adequate sanitation to address the pandemic and to ensure that the crisis does not deter progress in developing countries on achieving water and sanitation targets. She said Hungary will not allow water-borne pollutants into the country from outside.

Ishikane Kimihiro, Permanent Representative of Japan, stressed that water and sanitation are key elements for achieving human security. He noted that 90% of global disasters are water related.

Lazarus Amayo, Permanent Representative of Kenya, said many countries in the tropical world are bearing the brunt of climate variability and change. He suggested shifting the conversation to innovation and science.

Burhan Gafoor, Permanent Representative of Singapore, emphasized the role of technology and the importance of price signals. He said desalination provides 30% of Singapore’s water demand, and Singapore is working to increase the energy efficiency of its desalination plants. Singapore also is working to increase water recycling to 60%, which he said will require collaborating with the private sector.

Identifying accelerators needed to drive progress on the 2030 Agenda

Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, Netherlands, moderated a panel on the theme, ‘Identifying accelerators needed to drive progress on the 2030 Agenda.’

Gilbert Houngbo, UN-Water Chair and President, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), discussed UN-Water’s efforts to launch a Global Acceleration Framework for SDG 6. He said the Framework will focus on financing, data, and information needs, capacity development, and governance of water-related matters.

Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization (WMO), highlighted four WMO commitments to the Water and Climate Coalition: empower countries through capacity development; ensure data access by making all relevant data accessible on the SDG 6 data portal; support monitoring systems; and evaluate risks by assessing the impact of climate change on water availability.

Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director, UN-Habitat, emphasized the need for strong systems of equitable delivery of services. She cautioned that “our battle will be won or lost in cities.”

Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, Assistant Director-General for Natural Science, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), called attention to the need for a strengthened integrated science-policy interface. She also stressed that norms and practices must not hinder the opportunity for women to contribute to water decisions.

Maarten van Aalst, Director, Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Centre, noted that interconnected risks and compounded events demonstrate the need to build community capacity to address challenges. He remarked that investing in people is just as important as investing in infrastructure.

Péter Kovács, Vice-Chair of the Bureau of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Water Convention, informed participants that the Water Convention has a Protocol on Water and Health that can be used as a tool in the recovery phase from the pandemic. He also stressed the importance of transboundary efforts like river commissions for addressing climate change and encouraging peace and security.

Jerome Delli Priscoli, Chair of GWP Technical Committee, High-level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (HELP), said the threats of water-related disasters remain as imminent as they were before the pandemic, but COVID-19 health care responses could magnify the challenges they present.

In closing remarks, Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the SDGs provide guidelines for how to build back better from the pandemic. He said that DESA, along with UN-Water and other partners, will work to build trust through data generation, focus on human capacity to deliver SDG 6, and leverage and scale up innovative technologies, among other actions. [Event webpage] [SDG Knowledge Hub sources]