Policy Brief: Water for Sustainable Development: Towards the 2023 UN Water Conference | SDG Knowledge Center


“Water for Sustainable Development: Best Practices and the Next Generation” is the theme of the fourth Asia-Pacific Water Summit, which kicks off next week in Kumamoto, Japan. As we prepare for the Summit, the SDG Knowledge Center shine the spotlight on International Decade of Action on Water for Sustainable Developmentgives an overview of the UN-Water processand updates on preparations for the United Nations Water Conference 2023 – arguably”the most important water event for a generationshould catalyze action on SDG 6 (drinking water and sanitation).

The 2023 Conference is expected to propose a Global Water Pact and a roadmap for the second half of the Water Decade 2018-2028 and the SDGs.

Water is “a fundamental part of all aspects of life”. Due to its cross-cutting nature, water underpins all three dimensions of sustainable development and supports the achievement of many SDGs through close links with climate, environment and health, among others. the UN Water Conference 2023 Vision Statementfor example, acknowledges that “[w]Without a functioning and resilient water cycle for everyone everywhere”, human health, environmental integrity and a sustainable and equitable future “will remain out of reach”. Yet today, two billion people depend on unsafe sources of drinking water, and half of the world’s population lacks safely managed sanitation facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated – and exposed – these vulnerabilities.

International Water Decade: towards a mid-term review

In 2017, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution (A/RES/71/222) proclaiming the period from 2018 to 2028 the International Decade of Action, “Water for Sustainable Development”. The objectives of the Decade are “to place greater emphasis on the sustainable development and integrated management of water resources for the achievement of social, economic and environmental objectives and on the implementation and promotion of related programs and projects, as well as continued cooperation and partnership at all levels to help achieve internationally agreed water-related goals and targets, including those contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In 2019, the UNGA decided (A/RES/73/226) to convene, in New York, United States, from 22 to 24 March 2023, a conference on the global mid-term review of the implementation of the goals of the International Decade of Action – which is now known as the 2023 United Nations Water Conference. In a 2020 resolution (A/RES/75/212), the UNGA decided that the Conference:

  • Assess implementation progress during the first half of the Decade;
  • Identify possible challenges and obstacles related to achieving the goals of the Decade;
  • Exchange views and develop actions and initiatives needed to accelerate progress;
  • Support other actions and initiatives and strengthen means of implementation, partnerships and cooperation at all relevant levels;
  • Share ongoing efforts, best practices and experience;
  • Involve all relevant stakeholders from governments, United Nations, intergovernmental organizations, international financial institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society organizations (CSOs), academia, the scientific community, industry private, philanthropic and other organizations;
  • Invite States and other relevant stakeholders to announce voluntary commitments contributing to the implementation of the objectives of the Decade; and
  • Contribute to the follow-up and review process of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by providing input to the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

In March 2021, the UNGA President convened a one-day high-level meeting on water to demonstrate political support for the Decade and highlight priority areas for accelerated action. Key messages from the event included the need to:

  • Include all people, especially indigenous groups and youth, in innovative water solutions;
  • Link efforts on water to the need to preserve land integrity and prevent desertification, land degradation and drought (DDTS);
  • Addressing gaps in data and observation systems, including strengthening the role of UN-Water as a coordinator, and better engaging the private sector;
  • Increase funding and innovations; and
  • Creation of an international panel on water, similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The recently concluded 36th meeting of UN-Water, held in Geneva, Switzerland, on 7-8 April 2022, highlighted recent preparatory steps for the 2023 UN Water Conference, including: the Ninth World Water Forum, held in Dakar, Senegal, in March 2022; World Water Day 2022, celebrated on March 22, and the World Water Development Report (WWDR), both focusing on the theme “Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible”; and the ongoing regional preparatory meetings for the 2023 UN Water Conference taking place in a virtual format.

UN Water Conference 2023: Creating a “coherent drumbeat”

With the HLPF due to review SDG 6 in July 2023 and 2023 having been named the year of ambition for water, the upcoming UN Water Conference 2023, as UN-Water Briefing Note speak Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) notes, should help “create a cohesive drumbeat” to draw attention to the water. It will provide a “unique opportunity” to catalyze action and build partnerships to achieve international water goals, including SDG 6 and its targets.

The 2023 UN Water Conference will be co-hosted by the Netherlands and Tajikistan. During the 36th meeting of UN-Water, the co-organizers confirmed that the modalities of the event will include:

  • six plenary sessions during which Member States will have a space to make their statements;
  • five dialogues whose themes will be agreed later in 2022;
  • three to five special events;
  • side events; and
  • cultural elements such as exhibitions and marathons that will lead to a global focus on water during the week of the meeting.

Proposals for themes for the event are currently under consideration and will be selected at a meeting in late 2022. , Liu Zhenmin, noted that most proposals fall under one of five themes: 1) the water, climate and disaster risk reduction (DRR); 2) water and peace and security; 3) water for agriculture and food security; 4) nature and quality of water; and 5) universal access to water and sanitation.

Although the Conference will not produce a negotiated outcome, it should result in a set of voluntary commitments in the form of a Global Pact for Water, a summary of the debates and a roadmap for the second half of the Water Decade 2018-2028. and the SDGs, which are to be achieved two years after the end of the Decade.

Fourth Asia-Pacific Water Summit: A stepping stone to the 2023 UN Water Conference

The fourth Asia-Pacific Water Summit, to be held April 23-24, is the first in a series of events scheduled for the second quarter of 2022 that aim to promote a focus on water and sustainable water governance. The Summit’s focus on best practices and the next generation supports one of the priority areas identified by the March 2021 High Level Meeting on Water – that of including all people, especially indigenous groups. and young people, in innovative water solutions.

the Meeting of Sector Ministers Sanitation and Water for All 2022 from May 18 to 19, 2022, the seventh session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction from May 23 to 28, the second high-level international conference on the water decade June 6-9, and a Geneva Water Dialogue on June 22 will keep water in the spotlight over the coming months. Together with the fourth Asia-Pacific Water Summit, these meetings will build momentum towards the “watershed moment” that the 2023 UN Water Conference hopes to become.


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