UN 2023 Water Conference Talk Show: Keeping the momentum going.
- Meike Van Ginneken – Envoy For Water Kingdom Of The Netherlands
- Tori Okner – UNOPS / NDC Partnership
- Hajar Yagkoubi – Next Generation Speaker
- Sanoi Boyzoda – EC IFAS – Representative Of The Republic Of Tajikistan
- Mr. Joakim Harlin – Chief of the Freshwater Ecosystem Unit for UN Environment and as Vice-Chair of UN-Water.
During this session, the question of what comes next was posed following the first UN dedicated conference on water in nearly 50 years, hosted in New York. The conference is considered to have been successful at uniting the world on water specifically, but host Hajar Yagkoubi was eager to delve into her guests’ views on what comes next and how we can maintain momentum around water and put it at the heart of sustainable development.
Session focus with Esmond Bowerman
As highlighted by Yagkoubi, the disasters reported in the news over the past year cannot be ignored – the forest fires, droughts and floods are all a warning of what’s to come if we don’t act in time and heed the urgency of a call to action. This session drew attention to the role conferences could play in future and the opportunity they bring to learn from one another across the globe. They enable connectivity on water, both in a geographical sense and through the power of interactive dialogue from developed and underdeveloped countries. Water should not be considered a single source as it is much broader and is key to solving other SDGs around energy, environment, and food – as highlighted by the general secretary of the UN. Action is urgently needed. To reach the 2030 targets, the rate of progress needs to increase six fold.
Action after conference
The UN and its partners have realised that water has been neglected. March 2023 saw the first UN conference on water for nearly 50 years. The aim of this conference was to raise the awareness of the growing necessity to deal with water issues across the world. Various outcomes have come from the conference. First and foremost, approximately 800 commitments were made across NGOs, governments, communities and businesses in relation to water. Next, UN Water has begun to take action by pushing their Water Action Agenda, speeding up monitoring SDG 6 progress and putting out a Water Synthesis Report. Further, it is exploring creating a UN-wide strategy for water and sanitation which can be used worldwide, selecting a special envoy for water at the UN, and putting in place a mechanism to ensure the water agenda is kept at the forefront and conferences are held periodically.
As the UN increases their work on water and sanitation, it will heighten the profile of water issues across the world and undoubtedly bring the attention and scrutiny to water that is so desperately needed. As governments become increasingly aware and under pressure to act, this pressure will filter out into policy and regulation and essentially impact the private sector in how they manage water.
Sanoi Boyzoda, Representative of The Republic of Tajikistan, highlighted the importance of providing regulatory conferences and the urgency to schedule more consistently – “we cannot wait another 50 years.” Without collaboration, there cannot be progress. Meike Van Ginneken, Envoy for Water Kingdom of the Netherlands, similarly highlighted that non-traditional gatherings are good – “inclusivity is important as is action orientation.” The March summit can be declared a success in this regard as it was one of the biggest water gatherings ever, with representatives from state and governmental representatives as well as non-state, NGO, private sector etc. However, we need to remember to reach out further to the likes of the food, energy and climate community as a point of attention.
The discussion was brief, but it highlighted that the UN Conference for Water in March 2023 had helped kick start the mobilisation efforts across the world on issues surrounding water. Already halfway through the timeline for most SDG targets, it has become apparent that if we continue with current progress, we will not reach them. While steady progress has been made, the 800 commitments made during the conference could make a significant impact on reaching the SDG 6 goals. UN Water and partner countries and organisations seem to have realised the urgency and are taking steps to speed up change.
However, we must realise that it is only through action that commitments are translated from good intentions to meaningful impacts. What remains to be seen is if this conference will be the spark that ensures the work is completed on time.