Reaffirming and learning: Reflections from COP27 and looking ahead in the water action decade

A picture of an entry way to COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt at night with a sign saying COP27 2022

Insights from COP27: Part two 


Water for Women’s key messages (see part one) shared at COP27 were reinforced by the experience of other programs, agencies and organisations exploring how to deliver climate-resilient water and WASH systems and services.  Common themes and successful approaches were discussed not only at the Water Pavilion, but across multiple pavilions in the Blue Zone. Throughout the large and sometimes overwhelming event, it was heartening to hear the common threads that tied together the work and success stories happening around the globe, driven by determination, innovation, collaboration and ambition. There is still much to be done, but progress towards achieving the SDGs is happening in many and varied ways. We must harness what is working and scale up our ambition in this critical decade of action.


Water for Women’s key take-aways from our time at COP27 reiterate the role of water resources, water supply, sanitation and hygiene as a key part of the adaptation solution and building climate-resilience of people and communities.


Water finally at the negotiating table


For the first time in COP's history, water is included in the results of the negotiations. Though it seems remarkable that water has been absent in this discussion all these years, this has been rectified at COP27.


Read now: Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan


Water in the cover text

Also recognising the critical role of protecting, conserving and restoring water systems and water-related ecosystems in delivering climate adaptation benefits and co-benefits, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards 

Water in section V. Adaptation

21. Emphasises the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring water and water-related ecosystems, including river basins, aquifers and lakes, and urges Parties to further integrate water into adaptation efforts


What we learned on Resolution Day


Resolution Day at COP27 in the Water Pavilion drew together the many learnings and messages that had been shared throughout the two weeks across 10 thematic days.  Below is a snapshot of the rich discussions and commitments.

You can also catch all of the session recordings here.


Water is central to a climate-resilient future

Water is the connector between the sectors and a primary medium through which the effects of climate change, both immediate and slow onset, are felt. At the same time, water security will impact the achievement of most, if not all, SDGs.

Water must be at the forefront of both climate change adaptation and mitigation -  water is the first victim of climate change and the first vector of its impact on  societies. But management of water in relation to energy is also part of the solution.


But let’s not forget sanitation

Ensuring community resilience through resilient water and sanitation services is a key priority for all countries – especially those that experience both insufficient access to water and sanitation and have high exposure to climate risks.

Climate-resilient sanitation and related hygiene behaviour change needs greater attention – adaptation of sanitation systems is fundamental to protecting public health and achieving wider community resilience, reducing emissions, and enhancing water security. Other sectors would also benefit through recycled water, nutrients and energy.


Along with many other organisations, our partners the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, WaterAid and SNV released a Call to Action on accelerating climate-resilient sanitation at COP27


The need for nature-based solutions

Nature-based solutions can play a vital role in building community resilience and mitigating the impacts of climate change. But much more investment is needed. Of the $79.6 billion of climate finance issued[BV2]  globally by developed countries in 2019, less than 1.5% flowed to nature-based solutions for adaptation.

Adaptation financing must start prioritising investments in large scale nature-based solutions to accelerate resilience building among communities hard hit by drought, famine, flooding and sea level rise, and begin rejuvenating natural ecosystems.

Nature-based solutions are a whole-of-society approach, integrating multiple stakeholders important to social, economic, and environmental goals.

Nature-based solutions can improve water supply and ensure clean water, while contributing to mitigation through the reduction of GHG emissions.

Tapping into local knowledge for applying nature-based solutions to different environmental contexts is critical to effectiveness and sustainability of interventions.


From vulnerability to inclusion, equity and capacity recognition

Three shifts need to urgently take place to address issues of equity and resilience in the face of climate risks:

  1. a shift in ‘drivers of vulnerability’ (i.e. pro-actively supporting the adaptive capacities of marginalised groups)
  2. a shift in fragile and highly climate-vulnerable contexts (i.e. supporting measures to mitigate climate related risks)
  3. a shift ‘back from the edge’ (i.e. pro-actively working on social norms change to enable us all to work in more equitable, inclusive, cooperative and cohesive ways to find transformative solutions to the very real threats of climate change).

The principle of “Nothing about Us without Us!” should be central to any project intervention.

Women experience climate consequences disproportionately, yet are also agents of change in their communities and should be valued and treated as such.

We must strengthen work to ensure the active, free and meaningful participation of rights-holders and other relevant stakeholders in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of climate and water  sanitation policies.

Bringing together different stakeholders and diverse voices supports identification and implementation of new and innovative solutions for a climate-resilient future.


Localising knowledge ensures better and more appropriate and sustainable solutions

Indigenous knowledge needs to be recognised as knowledge that is as equally important and valuable as “scientific” data.

Indigenous peoples’ relationships with land, water and territories, particularly in food systems and water management, are embedded in their knowledge systems and cosmogonies, and underlie their effective ecological stewardship. It will be critical that indigenous people/small holder farmers and their community leaders have a voice in identifying solutions through participatory and inclusive planning processes.


The case for breaking siloes and cross-sectoral collaboration

Systemic risks to food, energy, environment, and water systems necessitate new long-term research, governance, and finance initiatives to accelerate learning and synergise interactions across policy, science, governance and finance.

Adopting climate smart agriculture approaches, as well as inclusive and integrated land and water resource management techniques, are regarded as critical adaptation measures for agriculture and livelihoods to reverse land and water resource degradation trends and promote inclusive development.

We need to move from working in siloes to working collaboratively across energy and other sectors and scales (national, regional, community). This involves strengthening cross sectoral consultation mechanisms at local, national and global levels, to ensure the development of concerted efforts around water-energy-food (and other sectors) and provides a starting point for developing integrated solutions and upscaling them.

Cities are hubs of innovation when it comes to building water resilience. Urban resilience depends on multi-stakeholder processes where basin users collaborate because one user or group can’t move the needle alone.


Capacity development and financing are critical if we are to transform to a more
climate resilient future

Financial institutions and the donor community should work together to overcome financing gaps by supporting innovative water-related programs and projects and advancing financially coherent structures while ensuring proper inclusion of vulnerable and indigenous communities, women, and youth. No one should be left behind.

The economic impact of not investing in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) has been recognized for many years. The manifold human costs from poor WASH access results in significant economic losses (premature deaths, health care, lost time and productivity). For example, in 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that the global economic return on sanitation spending is US$5.5 dollar for every one dollar invested[1].

The case for financial and human resource investment is clear. If not, resilience itself is at risk. In 2021 alone, 100 million people globally were directly affected by floods, storms and droughts (Aquanomics: The economics of water risk and future resiliency - GHD). These extreme water events, brought about by climate change, are likely to increase in frequency and intensity. To mitigate against the risks relating to the increasingly fragile state of ecosystems, cultures, and livelihoods, appropriate and equitable resourcing for adaptation measures and building community resilience, including supporting the most marginalized who are at the forefront of water related disasters, is more important than ever.


[1] i Hutton, G. (2011). Economics of Sanitation Initiative What are the economic costs of poor sanitation and hygiene?. Washington DC, World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program


A gif featuring many Water for Women products

Now in its fifth year and extended until 2024, Water for Women brings depth of experience from 20 WASH projects and 13 research initiatives in 15 countries across South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Water for Women is bringing the voices and learning of the Asia Pacific region to COP27 to highlight how equitable WASH is a building block for a climate-resilient future.

Since 2018, Water for Women has directly benefited over 3 million people across 15 Asia-Pacific countries – including more than 1.3 million women and girls, 1.3 million men and boys, 73,000 people with disability, and those attending the more than 700 schools and healthcare facilities now with improved access to WASH.

Water for Women participated at COP27 as part of Australia – water partners for development, a collaboration with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Water Partnership.

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