The UAE’s Cop28 presidency said on Thursday it would “drive water up the climate agenda” by focusing on freshwater, cities and food at the summit in Dubai.
The three priorities – restoring freshwater ecosystems such as rivers, making cities more resilient, and bolstering food systems – were announced at World Water Week in Sweden.
Summit hosts hope to secure new commitments on water from countries attending Cop28. One day of talks, on December 10, will be dedicated to food, agriculture and water.
Water “has been chosen as one of the key priority areas” of the summit and will be “integrated throughout the programme” beyond the themed day of talks, said Ingrid Timboe, a water specialist on the Cop28 team.
The impacts of climate change on water - such as floods and droughts - are a particular concern in the Middle East and North Africa, the talks have heard.
Beyond the three “critical priority areas”, water-related issues such as sanitation and protecting mangroves could feature during talks on nature and health, delegates in Stockholm were told.
Water experts have been invited to contribute to the first “global stocktake”, a key part of Cop28 where countries will assess their progress towards tackling global warming.
“We need to put water and people at the centre of everything we do, and we have an opportunity to do that at the Cop,” said Karen Gardes, the acting head of the Stockholm International Water Institute.
“We need to bring water questions to the climate questions, and vice versa.”
The Cop28 presidency said on social media that its three priorities would “drive water up the climate agenda”.
One specific goal is to promote a UN-backed pledge called the Freshwater Challenge, which has a goal of restoring 300,000 kilometres of rivers and 350 million hectares of wetlands by 2030. Summit hosts hope to get 30 or more countries signed up.
A second aim is for seven to 10 cities to join an initiative on climate-resilient water utilities. A working group on water will be set up as part of an adaptation drive launched at Cop27 in Egypt.
“There are so many different actors, there are so many different initiatives, but there’s not a lot of coherence and co-ordination,” Ms Timboe said.
Senior ministers will be invited to the food and water summit co-hosted with Brazil. The intention is to start a two-year “work programme” to bring together the two issues. About 70 per cent of global freshwater use is for agriculture.
The focus on water is part of the UAE presidency’s focus on “lives and livelihoods” – one of four pillars of its plan for Cop28 alongside finance, energy and inclusivity.
The Cop28 presidency said last month there was "no path" to achieving global climate goals without progress on water, nature, food and agriculture.
The three water priorities are the areas that were most frequently brought up by diplomats preparing for Cop28, said Dane McQueen, the summit’s director of programmes and partnerships.
“As you can imagine, where we are in the world, water is a topic that preoccupies us. But what really struck is in the consultations this year was how frequently it came up,” he said.