A Paris moment for water?

700 commitments - but no Blue Deal

27 Mar 2023 by The Water Diplomat

Antonio Gutteres

“Water is about peace. It is about sustainable development. It is about fighting poverty, supporting food systems and creating jobs and prosperity. Water is about human rights and gender equality. That is why water needs to be at the centre of the political agenda. All of humanity’s hopes for the future depend in some way  on charting a science based course to bring the Water Action Agenda to life”. These were UN Secretary General  Antonio Guterres’  closing remarks at the end of the first dedicated conference on water held at UN level since the Mar del Plata conference of 1977.

The Water Conference was convened by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), co-hosted by the Netherlands and Tajikistan, and was held in New York from 22 to 24th March 2023 in the presence of some 9,000 delegates, representatives of different tiers of government, (inter)national non-governmental organisations and research institutions, civil society groups, representatives of indigenous peoples, and trade unions. It was the culmination of the mandate provided by the UNGA in resolution  75/212 to review the implementation of the objectives of the international decade for action on water for sustainable development from 2018 to 2028.

In July 2021, UN-Water, the organisation uniting more than 30 UN agencies with a mandate relating to water and sanitation, released a progress report on the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) on water and sanitation.  This report presented a rather sobering assessment of progress, indicating that a quadrupling of efforts would be needed to achieve the eight targets contained under SDG 6. Already in 2020, and based on early indications that SDG 6 implementation was off track, UN-Water had launched an acceleration framework to deliver fast results at an increased scale.  

In March 2022, the Executive Secretariat of the 9th World Water Forum had pursued an agenda striving for a paradigm shift in the way in which the three-yearly World Water Forums were organised. Rather than organising a forum with an open water agenda and subdivided into different political, scientific and civil society consultative bodies, the 9th World Water Forum was to be and integrated planning event, decompartmentalising the different consultative bodies and focusing the discussions on outcomes around four key themes of discussion. This led to the announcement of a Blue Deal within the declaration made at the end of the 9th World Water Forum.

However, in follow-up preparatory meetings for the UN Water Conference, the idea of united action around a single ‘deal’ or ‘Paris Moment for Water’, which the host countries and their talented special envoys had advocated, was gradually replaced by a softer structure based on a collection of voluntary pledges. This led to the creation of a basket of commitments collected in the context of the  water action agenda, under which some 700 pledges have been received.