Guest editorial by Astrid Schomaker – Director for Global Sustainable Development, DG ENV, EU Commission
2022 has been a difficult year. The water sector has certainly seen more than its fair share of challenges, from severe droughts in Europe and Africa, devastating floods in Pakistan, to Russia’s targeting of civilian water infrastructure as part of its war on Ukraine. Nevertheless, it is possible to be optimistic about the year ahead and the opportunities it offers.
The Russian war of aggression has accelerated our energy transition. The REPowerEU Plan foresees the largest roll-out of renewable energy ever. And just like in the EU, other countries are deploying renewables around the globe. This constitutes an unprecedented opportunity. What we need to make sure now is that we have a water-positive pathway for the energy transition, one that enables us to make the right investments in renewable energy technologies that are compatible with sustainable water uses.
Last November, the world convened at climate COP27 in Egypt, a country not a stranger to water management challenges. Never before has water been so prominent at a climate conference. The worsening impacts of climate change and interlinked crises call for us to better anticipate, prepare, respond and recover by making water resilience and water solidarity two new policy paradigms for our action in the EU and beyond our borders. Supplying our planet’s 8 billion citizens with sustainable energy, ensuring their food security, and enabling healthy and peaceful lives – none of these basic aspirations can be achieved if water availability and water quality are left out of the equation. Our policies can only be effective if they look at the issues together and if policymakers work in close cooperation with stakeholders and experts from all over the world.
Lastly, the year ahead will present a unique opportunity to step up such cooperation, learn from each other’s approaches internationally and kick start a global movement for water resilience. For the first time in 45 years, the international community is gathering at the UN 2023 Water Conference on 22-24 March, in New York. This will be an opportunity for Member States, private sector and civil society to commit to actions, and showcase innovations in water technology and governance to achieve sustainable water management. Those of us who are fastest in making the transition to a circular and resource-efficient economy will benefit from a first-mover advantage internationally. But this is not just an opportunity, there is a moral obligation to scale up ambition: globally, we need to quadruple investments to meet Sustainable Development Goal 6 on access to water and sanitation, and to strengthen the water-dimension of all goals. I therefore encourage you to rally to the cause and make the UN 2023 Water Conference the watershed moment the world urgently needs.