COP 27: When climate threatens water.

According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), since 1980, droughts and the famines they have caused have killed 558,000 people and affected over 1.6 billion. @OIKOS (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Interview with representatives of the French Water Partnership on their return from Sharm El Sheikh.


Alain Boinet : You have just returned from COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where you represented the FWP, which supports the view that water is the main marker of climate change. Can you tell us why and how?

Jean-Luc Redaud : For a simple physical reason: every time the temperature rises, there is evaporation and an increase in the quantity of water in the atmosphere. As a result, each additional degree of temperature results in both evaporation in the form of droughts for some countries and much greater condensation of water in other countries, which leads to heavy rainfall and even typhoons and floods. So water is indeed the main marker of climate change because the water cycle is directly modified by temperature conditions. It is a physical phenomenon that we cannot escape. The models that scientists have developed for the IPCC predictions highlight how this water cycle will react to temperature increases. It is important to note that not all impacts are the same depending on the size of the marine and continental masses: for example, we know that temperature rises will be greater at the poles.

Water-related phenomena are also important because they are likely to become almost irreversible; in particular the phenomenon of melting Arctic ice, the main consequence of which is a rise in sea level. This will also have an impact on continental waters. For example, in the Pyrenees, in 50 years’ time, there may no longer be any glaciers. Glaciers and snow are very important water resources for rivers. When you think of this phenomenon in mountains such as the Himalayas, for example, you can only imagine the impact on all its rivers.

It is therefore a whole series of physical phenomena that explain why water is the direct marker of temperature rises.

Défis Humanitaires : Egypt, which is presiding over COP27, has placed great emphasis on the priority of water in relation to climate change. Its Minister of Foreign Affairs even prioritised three sectors: agriculture, water management and energy. Was this issue at the heart of the negotiations?

Marie-Laure Vercambre : During this COP, we saw a more important place for water, not in the framework of the negotiations, but notably through the 2nd edition of a WATER AND CLIMATE pavilion financed in large part by Egypt and in which the FWP and others were partners. There were also initiatives specific to this COP such as AWARE, an initiative on water resources management, and FAST, an initiative on water and agriculture. These are particularly important issues for Egypt, so it is not surprising that they felt it was appropriate for agricultural and water abundance issues to be addressed as part of the COP on climate change that they were chairing. This WATER AND CLIMATE pavilion was a re-run of the first WATER AND CLIMATE pavilion in Glasgow last year and was very lively, with similar partners from Glasgow. There was also the official day dedicated to water: the COP presidency put the theme of freshwater on the official programme. Does this mean that it is part of the negotiations? No, not yet. There is still no mention of water in the context of mitigation, the subject that most agitates negotiators. Despite the negotiation of the Global Adaptation Goal (GAG), which has made progress and for the moment talks about water and aquatic ecosystems, which is positive, we are still at the very beginning. The water community welcomes the fact that the word “water” is mentioned in the COP synthesis but there are still no negotiations on specific water issues.

Jean-Luc Redaud à la tribune de l’évènement sur la gestion intégrée des ressources en eau sur le Pavillon France. @PFE

Défis Humanitaires : In particular, the FWP organised an event on the Water & Climate pavilion on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from water and sanitation utilities, as well as a presentation of the Water4AllSDGs application developed by the FWP’s SDG working group. Can you present this event and its conclusions?

Joffrey Lapidus : On Wednesday 9 November, the FWP held a session on the Water & Climate pavilion on the theme of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from water and sanitation utilities, which is also the theme of the latest study published by the FWP’s Water & Climate group. This study makes an inventory of the different techniques that exist and are available to water and sanitation utilities in the North and South to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. These techniques include, for example, leakage control, energy saving or wastewater recycling and reuse.

The event had as a first mission to present this FWP study and as a second goal to present concrete case studies. It should be remembered that the figures are not yet scientifically stable but we are between 3 and 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions produced by water and sanitation services. This is a substantial figure and the FWP organised this session precisely to include water in the climate change mitigation negotiations. At this event, there were various case studies, notably in Jordan and Egypt, presented by Suez, and an intervention by the Paris City Council on the actions of Eau de Paris to reduce its emissions.

To conclude this session, we presented the Water4allSDGs application developed by the FWP SDG working group, which is a free application available to all. All you have to do is answer a series of questions about a project and the application provides a result that shows how the project in question impacts each of the SDGs in a positive and negative way. This gives an overview of the concrete impact of projects on the progress of the SDGs and the opportunity for actors to adjust their projects if they have negative externalities on one or more of the SDGs.

Les inondations au Pakistan ont causé 1100 morts et 33 millions de sinistrés. © European Union, 2022 (photographer: Abdul Majeed)

Défis Humanitaires : The FWP co-organised another event on water-related disaster management in the face of climate change and the importance of early warning systems. Who were your partners for this event and what did you conclude?

Joffrey Lapidus : For this event “Managing water-related disasters in the face of climate change”, the FWP was a partner in a session jointly organised with the Republic of Tajikistan, the Japan Water Forum, the Centre for Climate and Resilience Research and AGWA. Alix Roumagnac, President of Predict Services, represented the FWP and presented the CREWS initiative, launched by France during COP21 on climate risks and early warning systems. It is an initiative that is still relevant today, which has received regular funding since COP21 from a number of actors and which reminds us that certain initiatives launched during these COPs have concrete impacts over time.

Jean-Luc Redaud : The two major water-related impacts are drought and water-related disasters. On disasters, Alix Roumagnac made a case study on the Mediterranean because it is one of the seas that is warming up faster than the oceans. As a result, all these phenomena of drought and catastrophic flooding are getting worse in the Mediterranean. This event therefore allowed for a scientific approach that sought to show and link what is happening in the Mediterranean and what is happening in continental waters. On the same subject in another COP event, our colleague Patrick Lecante in Guyana rightly pointed out that the problem there specifically was not lack of water but rather excess water.

The subject of disasters was central throughout the COP and had an impact on another issue: that of loss and damage. This is the case for small island states, threatened with being completely flooded, and for countries such as Pakistan, which led the demands for the opening of a chapter for the populations most threatened by global warming. This issue was the subject of very long discussions and was probably the hardest negotiated and one of the innovative points of this COP: for the first time, the developed States agreed to examine ways of helping these most vulnerable populations. It should be remembered that beyond adaptation, the issue of loss and damage also has very important financial implications.

Another important issue that gave rise to discussions was population alert, in other words, our capacity to warn populations sufficiently in advance to protect themselves from disasters. These warning systems exist in developed countries and in France they have been set up for flood warnings, particularly around the Mediterranean, or for typhoon warnings in the West Indies, but they are largely deficient in the most vulnerable countries. It is therefore essential to develop this aspect to ensure the safety of populations.

Défis Humanitaires : Another event on climate change mitigation and adaptation through water resilience with the UN WATER and other actors including the representative of the Netherlands, which will co-chair the next UN water conference in 2023 in New York. What were the outcomes of this event?

Joffrey Lapidus: We follow the UN WATER discussions closely and we were able to participate in the creation of this event. We had submitted proposals for French interventions. In particular, we had proposed a speaker on the private sector with an intervention by Pierre-Yves Pouliquen, Director of Plural Performance and Sustainable Development at Veolia. This event, moderated and concluded by Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for Water of the Netherlands, addressed in a general way the potential of water for mitigation and adaptation with several points of view of private, public and associative actors. As with most water-related events, Henk Ovink and his Tajik counterpart Sulton Rahimzoda promoted the upcoming UN Water Conference in 2023 and recalled that they expect a lot of commitment from states, civil society and international organisations.

1.5 million head of livestock have already been lost in southern Ethiopia. European Union, 2022 (Photographer: Silvya Bolliger)

Défis Humanitaires : The Paris Agreements of COP21 in 2015 set the objective of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, reducing greenhouse gases and mobilising 100 billion dollars by 2020. Where are we, one year before the review at COP28, and what about the establishment of an ad-hoc fund on loss and damage which has been the subject of much negotiation?

Jean-Luc Redaud : To sum up, the Paris Agreement has two objectives: mitigation and adaptation. Particular emphasis has been placed on mitigation with a target of 2°C and if possible 1.5°C, with a voluntary system: countries must present contributions that allow them to stay within the framework of a warming of less than 2°C by 2100. Unfortunately, all the studies show that the contributions presented by the countries will not make it possible to reach this objective. Even more alarming, scientific studies show that the climate is getting worse and worse and is drifting towards an increase of 3°C to 4°C by the end of the century. There is therefore a huge gap between what scientists say and the commitments made by states. This issue was not addressed in Sharm El-Sheikh. It should be dealt with in next year’s global review but this seems unlikely given that the states have still not presented any increases in their proposals. So on mitigation we are off to a very bad start and this COP has been very weak. The negotiators wanted to keep the 1.5°C target, to “create an obligation”. However, everyone is quite worried and does not believe that we will be able to present a positive outcome next year.

As a result, there is a growing demand for adaptation. As this COP was held in Egypt, it was defined as the COP of Africa, and African countries denounced throughout the COP the lack of commitment from Western countries. The latter had promised 100 billion dollars for these countries, but studies, notably by the OECD, show that only 80 billion have been released each year since 2020. There have therefore been very strong demands from the Group of 77 countries (of which China and the oil-producing countries are members) to alert them to the lack of support and the failure to respect the promise of the Western countries. This issue remains unclear, despite some important bilateral actions such as the announcement of an adaptation programme for Africa by the US, or a specific programme for Egypt, led by the US and Germany. However, I do not feel that the GH77 countries consider that we have met the adaptation demands of the poorest countries.

The issue of loss and damage, which is aimed at the most threatened countries, was opened at COP19 in Warsaw, where there was agreement on a special scheme for these countries. Rich countries had so far refused to open a new fund. Strong pressure from Pakistan during this COP27 finally resulted in an agreement to consider the establishment of a fund by the rich countries. There are already 40 countries involved, having pledged over $350 million for such a fund. Several countries have warned that a fund is also needed for other important issues such as biodiversity and the oceans. France, along with others, has therefore raised the need to re-examine the architecture of these climate funds. There should be a summit next year to evaluate all the funds, the structure of the international donors and their roles. Beyond the confusion linked to the multitude of negotiations and means of financing, there was nonetheless a breakthrough: the recognition that it was necessary to put in place a mechanism for the poorest countries.

I would like to point out that there is still an ambiguity with China and the oil-producing countries, which are part of the 77 and therefore do not consider themselves donors.  Revisiting the field of donors and introducing China and the oil-producing countries is one of the points discussed at this COP?

This is also an important issue for NGOs. Today, climate NGOs work more on mitigation than on adaptation. I think it is important that NGOs work more on adaptation if they want to engage with the most vulnerable countries. This means that development NGOs must join this adaptation effort. Overall, experts consider that our failure on mitigation is not reassuring for the future.

Joffrey Lapidus : The negotiations were played out on loss and damage, which was the key point to defuse the mitigation negotiations. However, the ambitions were not very high.  However, an interesting initiative was taken by India, which suggested that a phase-out of all fossil fuels should be organised and enshrined in the texts. This proposal received a lot of support, especially from island states, the EU and certain hydrocarbon producers such as Norway and the United States.

On the subject of loss and damage, we can see that the climate negotiations are not only being played out on a climate scale, but also take into account the international context, particularly the international financial context and the desire to reform the financial system. Many of the high-level interventions were in this direction, notably with the Prime Minister of Barbados, with whom the French President wishes to organise a summit in the spring of 2023 on the issue of reforming the international financial system.

Soukena Mint Krama (left) and Massouda Mint Bouder (right) extract water from the well, Hsey Tach, Mauritania. @EU-ECHO (Photographer: Xaume Olleros) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Défis Humanitaires : How would you like to conclude this interview?

Marie-Laure Vercambre :At the macro level, the FWP has contributed to advancing the cause of water in the climate negotiations. This COP also comes a few weeks before the COP on biodiversity. The links between water, biodiversity and the security that comes with climate and water security are increasingly being established and publicised. This COP also came just before COP15 and a few months before the water conference at the end of March 2023 in New York, which will be the first since 1977. This conference, which will bring together states, will not have political conclusions but will open certain doors. We are witnessing an increase in the importance of water issues in global governance. This is not something to celebrate, but we are moving towards greater consideration and difficult negotiations. The Water Momentum is here.

Jean-Luc Redaud : It should be remembered that the climate convention dates back to 1992 and the climate problem had been posed by scientists since 1985. Thirty years later, we can see how slowly our societies are evolving on these issues. This should make us think about the evolution of our lifestyles: we must both support poor countries that do not have access to essential goods such as energy and water, and, for rich countries, considerably reduce emissions. Many people are banking on technology, but that will not be enough, we need to change our lifestyles. Today we talk a lot about energy sobriety, but we must also aim for water sobriety. The fact that things are moving slowly is not reassuring for the future. What is certain is that providing funding to help people adapt without dealing with the initial issue, i.e. looking first at how to control these temperature rises, is not a good solution. I am counting a lot on the younger generation to take charge of the issue.  One positive point for us is that awareness that water is the main marker of climate change is growing among the negotiators of the Climate Conferences; a message that we must take to the 2023 Water Conference organised under the aegis of the United Nations.

Joffrey Lapidus : To come back to the COP processes, climate negotiations and water stakeholders, we can see that 15 years ago, when water stakeholders were trying to get a place in these meetings of climate stakeholders, it was not necessarily possible. A great deal of work has been done over the years and water stakeholders at the international level have joined forces to advance their advocacy and their messages. In recent years, all this has become more structured, with a Water and Climate Pavilion at COP26 for the first time and two paragraphs dedicated to water in the final decisions of COP27. We can therefore be pleased that water is taking an increasingly important place in the climate forums. Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly to ensure that we do not just talk to each other about water, but negotiate with all the other actors who use and need water in their activities. We know that this is virtuous at the level of river basins, and it will also be at the international level.


French Partnership for Water. 


Marie-Laure Vercambre was previously in charge of the Water for Life and Peace programme of the NGO Green Cross International founded by Mikhail Gorbachev. In this capacity, she supervised numerous development projects throughout the Green Cross network of country branches and worked extensively on global water governance, the right to drinking water and sanitation and transboundary issues. She studied political science, international relations and development at Sciences Po Paris and New York and Columbia Universities.


Jean Luc Redaud, a former student of the Ecole Polytechnique, is a General Engineer of Rural Engineering and Water and Forests. He has devoted most of his career to the world of water, at the Water Directorate of the Ministry of the Environment from 1976 to 1982, in the Cabinet of Michel Rocard, Minister of Agriculture, then at the Directorate of the Adour-Garonne Water Agency from 1984 to 1994, and finally as an expert in numerous international conferences. This experience led him, as Secretary General, to organise the first World Water Conference in Paris in March 1998 and then to participate actively in the main world summits on water organised on the initiative of the World Water Council. Jean Luc Redaud is also Secretary General of the 4D Association, an association that has been promoting and raising awareness of sustainable development issues since the 1990s. These activities led the government to ask him in 2001 to lead the French Committee of Civil Society Actors set up for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in September 2002. Since 2012, Jean-Luc Redaud has chaired the “Water & Climate” working group of the French Water Partnership, a multi-stakeholder platform that brings together French water stakeholders working internationally.

Joffrey Lapilus is a graduate of the School of International Affairs at Sciences Po Paris. After a long experience in Indonesia, the “land of water”, he naturally specialised in water-related projects and public policies. In France, he participated in the implementation of the climate change adaptation strategy for water in the department of Aube and in the creation of a dedicated multisectoral governance structure. Since 2022, Joffrey Lapilus has been in charge of “Water & Climate” advocacy within the French Water Partnership.