The U.N. Water Conference, co-hosted by Tajikistan and the Netherlands and taking place at U.N. Headquarters in New York, kicked off on March 22, World Water Day, and spanned three days. The conference is the first global summit of its kind in almost a half-century; the last was hosted in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 1977.
This year’s conference served as a midterm review of the Water Action Decade (2018-2028). U.N Secretary-General António Guteres had said the conference must result in a “bold Water Action Agenda that gives our world’s lifeblood the commitment it deserves.” The conference aimed to foster greater discussion on water-related issues, including access to potable water and sanitation, sustainable development, climate resilience, and international water cooperation.
The U.N. released its 2023 World Water Development Report on the first day of the conference. The summit also came on the heels of the publication of a synthesis report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body of leading climate experts that had convened in Switzerland last week. The synthesis report draws from several assessments, among them the body’s Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.
Over 2,000 individuals attended the conference. As the Secretary-General had urged, the summit closed with the adoption of the Water Action Agenda, containing nearly 700 commitments to safeguarding water. General Assembly President Csaba Kőrösi thanked participants for $300 billion in pledges toward the Water Action Agenda during the conference, which he said had the “potential of unlocking at least one trillion dollars of socioeconomic and ecosystem gains.”
During the conference, Just Security followed the U.N. Water Conference’s notable moments. This page was updated to reflect meetings, speeches, and more.
Global Water Security 2023 Assessment, United Nations University, March 23, 2023
The United Nations World Water Development Report 2023: Partnerships and cooperation for water, UNESCO, March 22, 2023
Synthesis Report of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, IPCC, March 19, 2023
Friday, March 24, 2023
- Plenary (10:00 AM ET)
- Member States and the European Union, as well as intergovernmental organizations, associate members of regional commissions, specialized agencies, interested United Nations Organs, and representatives of accredited NGOs and other stakeholders, continued to give statements.3
- Interactive Dialogue: Water Action Decade: Accelerating the implementation of the objectives of the Decade, including through the UN Secretary-General’s Action Plan (10:00 AM ET)
- This dialogue focused on implementation of the Water Action Agenda, assessing the efficacy of the Water Action Decade at the political level, and strengthening multilateralism around water.
- Informal Special Event: Water Leadership: Uniting for a Sustainable World (10:00 AM ET)
- This event centered on developing mechanisms to reflect the voices of youth, women, local authorities, Indigenous Peoples, and discriminated and marginalized communities in water leadership.
- Plenary (3:00 PM ET)
- Csaba Kőrösi (@Csaba_Korosi_), President, U.N. General Assembly
- “I am amazed by the ambition and solidarity you show in devising a water-secure future for all. . . towards an inspiring, cooperative, transboundary, transformative Water Action Agenda for sustainable development and resilience. An Agenda for which you have pledged more than 300 billion US dollars at this conference, with the potential of unlocking at least one trillion dollars of socioeconomic and ecosystem gains.”
- António Guterres (@antonioguterres), Secretary-General, United Nations
- “This conference demonstrated a central truth: as humanity’s most previous global common good, water unites us all, and it flows across a number of global challenges.”
- “Without water, there can be no sustainable development. As we leave this historic conference, let’s re-commit to our common future. Let’s take the next steps in our journey to a water-secure future for all.”
- Li Junhua, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations
- “The [Water Action Agenda] commitments covered a wide range of actions, from capacity building to data and the monitoring systems, to improving the resilience of the infrastructures. There are now 700 commitments in the agenda, in the action agenda, and this is only the beginning.
- Henk Ovink (@henkovink), Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, the Netherlands
- “We see a pact for the future of water is core and central. This conference did not give us the mandate to do so, but we brought the world together to ensure that there is a follow-up… We’ve been working very hard on getting this conference right. After the conference, the world has to continue working hard to get water right.”
- Hania Pérez de Cuéllar (@HPerezDeCuellar), Minister of Housing, Construction and Sanitation, Peru
- “I call on all Peruvian, Latin American and world leaders of the member countries to get out of the comfort zone, roll up our sleeves, put on our boots and lead the political, social, cultural and economic transformation that we need to face enormous challenges that our peoples demand in particular with the drinking water and sanitation agenda. It is not a matter of financial resources. It is, above all, about leadership and political will.”
- Usha Rao-Monari (@RaoMonari), Under-Secretary-General and Associate Administrator, United Nations Development Programme
- “We must work with local communities to better manage their ecosystems focusing on improved resilience through nature-based solutions, among others. And we should focus on partnerships that enable impact at scale, particularly in lower- and middle-income countries to ensure investments in access resilience and quality by combining financial flows to drive down the cost of capital and ensure the highest impact.”
Thursday, March 23, 2023
- Plenary (10:00 AM ET)
- Member States and the European Union, as well as intergovernmental organizations, associate members of regional commissions, specialized agencies, interested United Nations Organs, and representatives of accredited NGOs and other stakeholders all gave statements.
- Interactive Dialogue: Water for Climate, Resilience and Environment: Source to Sea, Biodiversity, Climate, Resilience and DRR (10:00 AM ET)
- Participants discussed the linkages among water, climate, and environment; barriers to providing information for improved water management; and mechanisms for incentivizing environmental protection.
- Informal Special Event: Reducing inequalities – implementing Human Rights (10:00 AM ET)
- This event spotlighted equality and human rights in addressing the global water crisis. It featured contributions from Indigenous Peoples, peasant communities, people living in informal human settlements in the periphery of large cities, and impoverished and marginalized groups.
- Plenary (3:00 PM ET)
- Member States and the European Union, as well as intergovernmental organizations, associate members of regional commissions, specialized agencies, interested United Nations Organs, and representatives of accredited NGOs and other stakeholders, gave statements.
- Interactive Dialogue: Water for Cooperation: Transboundary and International Water Cooperation, Cross Sectoral Cooperation, including Scientific Cooperation, and Water Across the 2030 Agenda (3:00 PM ET)
- This dialogue raised questions about accelerating arrangements and joint bodies for water cooperation for all transboundary rivers, lakes, and aquifers by 2030. It also focused on issues surrounding the implementation of inclusive and cross-sectoral governance in support of integrated water resources management. It also addressed the gap in the funding and financing of water cooperation.
- Informal Special Event: The Economics of Water: transforming governance to secure a sustainable, just and prosperous future (3:00 PM ET)
- This event underscored the importance of the Water Action Agenda. It highlighted the need to safeguard the global water cycle as a global common good and the governance conditions that are necessary for a more just use of water. The Global Commission on the Economics of Water (GCEW) also presented key findings for discussion.
- Olga Algayerova (@algayerova), Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
- “Only 24 countries worldwide have all their transboundary basin area covered by operational arrangements. Lack of cooperation on shared waters hinders the achievement of other SDGs and creates risks of conflicts over dwindling water resources.”
- “Climate change severely affects transboundary basins. Unilateral adaptation measures can lead to maladaptation, transfer of risks, and tensions. On the contrary, transboundary cooperation makes adaptation more effective through sharing of data, costs, and benefits.”
- Kaveh Madani (@KavehMadani), Director, United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health
- “If we don’t do enough for water, for the SDG 6, we will undermine the progress on the other SDGs. Whatever we want to do and deliver would have a relationship and interdependence on water. So unless we have serious action, unless we can make meaningful progress on SDG 6, we cannot deliver and fulfill the goals that we have by 2030.”
- Ilze Brands Kehris (@UNHumanRights), Assistant Secretary-General, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
- “We are focusing particularly on indigenous peoples, women and youth. So let’s remember also the intersectionality. Let’s remember that there are some even within these groups who are even more vulnerable and exposed than others, and we need to find proper solutions from that.”
- “The framework for human rights to water and sanitation means that we have to prioritize water for personal domestic uses. That is an obligation by states, and obligation for the progressive realization of these rights. And of course, that also means that there has to be proper participation, and it’s not participation by being at the table or being in a room. It’s participation in decision making.”
- Francisco Cali Tzay, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- “The exclusion of indigenous peoples in the management of water and sanitation has had an impact. It’s racist and discriminatory and it’s impacted their socio-economic life and their human rights. In particular, I’ve noted how national water management systems work in most cases without the consent of indigenous peoples, or despite the fact that indigenous peoples have been granted the human rights to self-determination.”
- Mami Mizutori (@HeadUNDRR), Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction / Head, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
- “Water, too much or too little, is the element that connects 90 percent of disasters around the world. And with climate change, it is increasingly difficult for communities to manage water-related disaster risks. Last week, the UN Economic Commission for Africa reported that African countries are spending up to 9 percent of their budgets to respond to extreme weather events. And disasters impede sustainable development but are a matter of survival for many developing countries.”
- Dr Musonda Mumba (@MumbaMusondam), Secretary General, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
- “We have no time. We’re running out of time because . . . we’ve already lost over 33 percent of wetland surfaces and in fact we are losing wetlands three times faster than forest.”
- David Cooper (@hdavidcooper), Acting Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity
- “We currently spend an order of magnitude more destroying nature than we do protecting it, so there’s a target to reduce harmful subsidies for biodiversity by at least 500 million a year by 2030.”
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
- Plenary Opening (9:30 AM ET)
- At the Plenary Opening, consideration was given to all procedural and organizational matters, including the adoption of the rules of procedure and the agenda, the election of the two Presidents of the Conference, and arrangements for the preparation of the Report of the Conference. Statements were made by the Presidents of the Conference, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the President of the General Assembly, the President of the Economic and Social Council, the Secretary-General of the Conference and the Chair of UN-Water.
- Interactive Dialogue: Water for Health: Access to WASH, including the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation (10:00 AM ET)
- This dialogue highlighted obstacles to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Participants also discussed accelerating national and local government action towards water, sanitation, hygiene and wastewater treatment issues and the best way to track action over the next eight years.
- Plenary (3:00 PM ET)
- Member States and the European Union gave statements. Intergovernmental organizations, associate members of regional commissions, specialized agencies, interested United Nations Organs, and representatives of accredited NGOs and other stakeholders also delivered statements.
- Interactive Dialogue: Water for Sustainable Development: Valuing Water, Water-Energy-Food Nexus and Sustainable Economic and Urban Development (3:00 PM ET)
- This dialogue focused on mechanism development for stakeholder engagement across the interlinkages of water, food, and energy. It also included discussion of how best to resolve the existing impasse between a rights-based and a valuation-based approach to water management, achieve greater efficiency in the agrifood chain in support of water management, and create incentives for innovation in water governance and finance.
- Informal Special Event: Radical Collaboration for Water Resilience: Action with our greatest Allies in the Climate Crisis (3:00 PM ET)
- This event explored the need to rethink the climate and water crisis. Participants contemplated inspiring change by examining water and its values, exploring the conditions that drive new models of collaboration, and showcasing elements that enable impact. The session concluded with concrete commitments to action from key stakeholder groups as contributions to the Water Action Agenda.
- António Guterres (@antonioguterres), Secretary-General, United Nations
- “We are draining humanity’s lifeblood through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use, and evaporating it through global heating. We’ve broken the water cycle, destroyed ecosystems and contaminated groundwater.”
- “Governments must develop and implement plans that ensure equitable water access for all people while conserving this precious resource.”
- “These silent giants [glaciers] are facing a rude awakening. Human activity is driving our planet’s temperature to dangerous new heights. Global warming is a global warning that we are on the wrong track. And melting glaciers are the canary in the coalmine.”
- Csaba Kőrösi (@Csaba_Korosi_), President, United Nations General Assembly
- “We know that we cannot fulfill our promise of sustainability, economic stability and global well-being by speeding up conventional solutions. We neither have time nor planet. There is simply not enough fresh water left anymore. Water that flows freely in rivers, across boundaries and that is distributed over the globe in the form of atmospheric rivers is now severely lacking.”
- “This conference is not a venue to negotiate positions, advantages, and compromise. I invite you to deliberate solutions that are science-based, sustainable, pragmatic and in solidarity. Solutions that will flow into the Water Action Agenda.”
- Emomali Rahmon (@EmomaliRahmon), UN Water Conference President, Tajikistan
- “We need to make joint efforts to achieve specific results and follow up on the agreement reached with a view to decently meet the expectations of the international community.”
- Willem-Alexander (@koninklijkhuis), UN Water Conference President, The Netherlands
- “I’m also happy to see that the younger generation is highly motivated and ready to help find solutions. But as they themselves have said, we can’t leave all the problem solving up to them. It is our responsibility to do everything we can.”
- “Follow the example of the Republic of Tajikistan and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. See collaboration in the murky waters of contrasts. Water is our common ground. There’s so much to discover and achieve.”
- Meelis Münt (@MOEestonia), Secretary General of the Ministry of the Environment, Estonia
- “As we know, more than 60% of freshwater resources are divided by two or more countries. And therefore, I am convinced that transboundary water cooperation is crucial for peace and security for sustainable development and climate action.”