New York, United States, 24 March – The UN 2023 Water Conference in New York culminated with a breakthrough response to the global water crisis, with national governments, regional and local governments, businesses and civil society committing to advance the water agenda. Co-hosted by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Republic of Tajikistan, the Conference gathered 10,000 participants at UN Headquarters and online from 22 to 24 March 2023, to urgently scale up action to address the water crisis and ensure equitable access to water for all.
UCLG facilitated a delegation of over 35 local and regional governments and their associations, on behalf of the Global Taskforce, to deliver its commitments to the global agendas as game changers for Water Action. Networks of the GTF such as ICLEI, Regions4, Resilient Cities Network, UCLG Africa and C40 were also critical actors in the Conference, facilitating side events throughout the week and ensuring spaces for our constituency.
Towards a renewed water governance that protects our biodiversity and water ecosystems: The Local and Regional Governments Day
This delegation as well as partners from the international system and representatives from national governments gathered at the Local and Regional Governments Day within the UN 2023 Water Conference, a day in which our constituency delivered a strong statement and contribution to the World Action Agenda calling for a renewal of water governance that involves all stakeholders and all spheres of government in protecting our water ecosystems. The day was facilitated by the GTF, in particular by ICLEI, C40, UCLG, and UCLG Africa.
Throughout the LRG day and the ensuing official sessions, local and regional governments addressed the importance of guaranteeing water as a human right, which implies revisiting the management of the commons and ensuring communities are included in the global decision-making processes.
Representatives called on national governments to uphold their commitments to guaranteeing SDG 6, to ensuring universal access to water through a strengthened role of the public sector and, in particular, through remunicipalising and deprivatising water provision. This, they argued, calls for guaranteeing fiscal transfers for local and regional governments to manage water, and empower subnational governments to act.
Participants reminded that local and regional governments have a privileged position to provide transparent, efficient and inclusive management of water and sanitation services and called on national governments to create enabling environments for exchange and learning to empower their communities.
At the opening, the World Water Council and the Ministry for Public Works and Housing of Indonesia, highlighted the urgency to act for water, and inaugurated the partnership between our constituency and the World Water Council, that will enable local and regional governments to lead policy processes ahead of the 2024 World Water Forum. Ilse Brands Kehris, Under Secretary General of the United Nations for Human Rights, welcomed the commitment of our constituency to upholding water as a human right as well as their need for inclusive multilateralism.
Throughout the panel, GTF networks addressed the importance of strengthening the role of associations to empower cities and regions in water management, in particular to ensure the delivery of water services- Partners from the civil society argued for the need to involve all stakeholders to ensure water governance is no longer siloed, and is able to incorporate not just governments, but the private sector and NGOs as well for better outcomes.
The final segment of the session brought together mayors and local and regional governments and their associations to discuss solutions to finance water provision at the local level. Participants reiterated the importance of the principle of subsidiarity to ensure local governments are able to deliver, and called on national governments to strengthen access to finance at local level. When addressing donors and philanthropic organizations, local and regional governments called for innovative ways to bring the private sector in, all the while acknowledging the importance of decommodifying water.
The need to transform the finance ecosystem, enabling local and regional governments to develop taxation mechanisms and finance water and sanitation services through local taxation were also at the heart of the discussion.
The Networks of the Global Taskforce closed the session, arguing for the strong role of our constituency ahead of the UN Water Conference, bringing local and regional examples and the strength of the networks. Further, they also reiterated their critical role in developing decentralized cooperation and capacity building hubs among territories in order to share, replicate and improve best practices, and .called to ensure local and regional governments have the technical capacity to tackle water and sanitation, going beyond governance.
Our constituency throughout the UN Water Conference
The constituency of Local and Regional Governments also raised their voices at the official events of the Conference. Philippe Rio, Mayor of Grigny, delivered the Statement of the Global Taskforce of at the UN General Assembly, in a segment that included national governments and representatives of the private sector in one of the plenary sessions of the UN Water Conference, stating that
“The time has come to build an environment that provides the core services required for our communities to live and thrive. The revision of the goals will be a crucial moment to put the localization of SDG 11 at the centre, as an enabler of all the other goals and, in particular, of the right to water. ”
On 23 March our constituency was an integral of Special Event 3 “Economics of Water: Transforming governance to secure a sustainable, just and prosperous future”. The event was facilitated by the GTF, co-organised with the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, and allowed to present their report “Turning the Tide: A Call to Collective Action”, which called on the international systems to manage the global water cycle as a common good, and urged all stakeholders to act collectively to ensure a global solution to the water crisis and achieve the goals
Together with stakeholders form the private sectors, development banks, international organizations, national government representatives and the civil society, local and regional governments such as the Mayor of Rotterdam Ahmed Aboutaleb, and former Mayor of Freetown Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr brought the commitments of local and regional governments highlighting the need to govern water as common to protect our ecosystems and ensure equal access to water. One of the key outcomes of the session was the need to put a “price” on water, not as a means to privatise it but to ensure it is properly valued, and thus can be accompanied by national and local policies that are mindful of its importance, beyond thinking just
Throughout Special Event 4,”Water Leadership: Uniting for a Sustainable World”, held in March 24, local and regional governments of Valparaíso, Grigny, and Bani Naim brought the importance of shared governance in the water sector, as well as their commitments to the Water Action Agenda. Beyond the special events, the region of Valparaíso was engaged in one of the Conferences’ Interactive Dialogues.
African local voices also had a say through a side event co-organized by UCLG Africa “A city-basin approach to water security in Africa: Solutions and commitments” Mayors, Governors and participants from the Private Sector and Development Banks raised the concerns and the challenges of the most affected continent by droughts and water scarcity. Investment in infrastructure and capacity building, localized water management, protection of the full cycle of water were some of the solutions and commitments that were shared. The Secretary General of UCLG Africa Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi recalled the urgency of listening to the African cities and territories alike that are walking the talk in Water Action.
Resilient Cities Network kickstarted the Conference on 21 March at “Cities Solve and Cities Deliver” a side event that brought together diverse stakeholders to learn, exchange and understand what cities need to transform water challenges into opportunities for resilience building.
In the final plenary of the UN Water Conference, UCLG Secretary-General Emilia Saiz delivered the vision of the constituency to ensure that local governments are involved at all stages of water governance: from policy design all the way down to the implementation of policies. This will be the only way to ensure water security, a true ecosystemic transformation and upholding the right to water to ensure no-one is left behind.
The Delegation of local and regional governments also met bilaterally with UNSG António Guterres, who celebrated the commitment of our constituency to strengthen the structural engagement with the UN, as well as with the Mayor of New York.
Our constituency’s contribution to the Transformative Water Action Agenda: from commitments to action
The Water Action Agenda, the key outcome of the Conference, captured over 700
commitments aimed at driving transformation from a global water crisis to a water-secure world. The agenda represents the global community’s bold resolve to address the water challenges through a more coordinated and results-driven approach, through a series of commitments by national governments and other stakeholders, including the commitment of our constituency to localize SDG6, which was published prior to the Conference.
Following the Summit, the UN is also considering the appointment of a Special Envoy on Water, and will influence the SDG Summit, the UI Summit of the Future and the COP processes of 2023, 2024 and 2025, as well as the World Social Summit and the upcoming iterations of the High-Level Political Forum.