Officials call for combined approach toward tackling climate, water crises at COP26
The climate and water crises “cannot be resolved independently of each other,” as extreme weather conditions eliminate glaciers, cause some rivers to run dry and transform streets into rivers, Hungarian President János Áder said at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) on Tuesday.
“There is a consensus among scientists that 80 percent of all impacts of the climate crisis can be felt through water,” Áder said.
The Hungarian president was addressing a high-level session at COP26 focused on “committing to an integrated global water and climate agenda.” Áder — and other participants in the session — are members of the Water and Climate Coalition, a joint initiative of the World Meteorological Organization secretary-general and the U.N. water chair.
According to Áder, increasingly adverse weather events and fundamental changes to the hydrological cycle have become a threat to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the U.N. in 2015. He characterized these threats as an “urgent call for action by all countries.”
“If we are unable to resolve the water crisis situation, then the implementation of almost all of the SDGs will be difficult, or even impossible,” Áder said.
To help resolve the water crisis, the Water and Climate Coalition aims to harness the funds, innovation and data necessary to take concrete action and change the world’s approach to the water and climate nexus.
The coalition, Áder said, has five key objectives: to create an integrated water and climate database that is accessible to all by 2025; to build a global hydrological observation system to measure water reduction levels in soil by 2030; to change financing approaches to account for environmental and social ramifications; to study the effects of melting glaciers; and to solve the problem that 90 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with shared waters. In 60 percent of these areas, there is no existing agreement on shared use.
“It doesn’t need too much imagination to see how much conflict this can potentially lead to, especially in the future, when we’re seeing adverse weather phenomenon,” Áder said.
One of the coalition’s other objectives — addressing glacial melting — is particularly critical, as glaciers have experienced a negative mass balance for the 33rd consecutive year, and that trend is only poised to continue, according to World Meteorological Organization secretary-general, Petteri Taalas.
Two major glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica are significantly contributing to sea-level rise, he added.
In Tajikistan, more than 14,000 glaciers have completely melted, and in the past few decades, the total volume of glaciers in Tajikistan have decreased by almost one-third, according to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.
“Water and climate are inextricably linked as climate change affects our lives and our economy mainly through water resources,” said Rahmon, who is also a leader of the Water and Climate Coalition. “Our glaciers are melting rapidly.”
Mari Pangestu, managing director of development policy and partnerships at the World Bank Group, said one of the key objectives is scaling up support for building hydrological databases, which she said are a critical tool for reducing both economic and human costs.
“Water is not only at the heart of climate change adaptation, it’s also crucial for mitigation,” Pangestu said, noting that “water is the great connector.”
Greenhouse gas emissions, she continued, can be reduced by smart water and sanitation management, which can particularly help mitigate risk in fragile and low-income countries.
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Pangestu said, calling on countries to collect of information about water quantity, quality and distribution.
“Time is the most scarce, non-renewable resource,” she added.
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