On 7 and 8 December 2022, the Groundwater Summit took place at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. This summit was the culmination of a year-long campaign implemented by the UN-Water Task Force, coordinated by UNESCO and the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre (IGRAC), entitled "Groundwater: making the invisible visible". It drew on data from the UN World Water Development Report 2022 (WWDR 2022), published in March 2022, which focuses on groundwater, as well as on the global acceleration framework for Sustainable Development Goal 6, to identify actions for more responsible and sustainable use and protection of this vital natural resource. The event also prepared a joint statement on groundwater to feed into the 10-year conference in New York in March 2023.
At the opening ceremony, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, stated: "Four billion people live in regions where water is scarce. This scarcity is increasing with climate change. Groundwater is part of the solution if it is managed sustainably. To succeed, we need strong international cooperation. But today, only 1.2% of transboundary aquifers are managed through agreements and coordination mechanisms between the countries concerned. This summit at UNESCO must multiply the efforts. » Henk Ovink, special envoy for international water affairs from the Netherlands, added that he believed it was a time bomb that few people in the world recognise and which, due to lack of knowledge, is badly managed and polluted. Finally, the Moroccan Minister of Equipment and Water, Nizar Baraka, added: "We are convinced that we can only really take up the challenges linked to groundwater together, by acting together, by sharing, and by being part of a logic of responsibility and action.
There have been growing tensions over water resources in recent years, amongst others due to the effects of climate change and poor governance of the resource. In addition, withdrawals at the global level have increased sixfold over the last 70 years, with all the consequences that this entails (degradation of ecosystems, soil subsidence and the intrusion of sea water into coastal aquifers, etc.). There was therefore an urgent need for sustainable groundwater management, including at international level.
In this respect, the Paris summit was the occasion for the official launch of a coalition for transboundary water cooperation with the aim of requesting concrete commitments to be presented at the United Nations Water Conference in New York in March 2023. The coalition is a multi-stakeholder partnership of over 30 governments and organisations. The coalition aims to :
- Provide a unified voice for the transboundary water community;
- Demonstrate and communicate the benefits of transboundary water cooperation, both for upstream and downstream countries and for adaptation to new climate challenges;
- Give impetus to concrete commitments related to transboundary water cooperation;
- Catalyse support to initiate, sustain and deepen transboundary water cooperation.
The commitments, which will arrive in the meantime, will be submitted as contributions to the Water Agenda, one of the main outcomes of the 2023 UN Water Conference