Water is the ‘climate connector’ that offers opportunities for collaboration across the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), Paris Agreement targets on climate change and Sendai Framework on disaster risk reduction.
That is because sustainable water management - which is an essential part of adaptation to a warmer world and building our resilience to climate change - involves governance, organisations, and individuals across scales - from international to local communities - and across a wide range of water-related disciplines and impact sectors.
As UNESCO Chair in Water Sciences, I have witnessed over nearly a decade how important knowledge exchange is as a tool to communicate the importance of water security to society and develop solutions to tackle wicked water problems related with too much (flood), too little (drought) and too polluted (poor water quality) water.
For example, exchanges between scientists, policymakers, businesses, and the public make the latest scientific knowledge accessible to key stakeholders who can use this information to make better informed decisions about water and climate-related issues.
COP28 represents an unparalleled opportunity to build trust between these groups and foster active collaboration between industry, government, scientists and citizens.Professor David Hannah, University of Birmingham – UNESCO Chair in Water Science; Director of Birmingham Institute for Sustainability & Climate Action
The UN’s annual Climate Change Conference is the ultimate platform for joining world leaders together with scientists and these stakeholders. To be held in the UAE later this year, COP28 represents an unparalleled opportunity to build trust between these groups and foster active collaboration between industry, government, scientists and citizens.
Last month’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) presented an opportunity for companies, and indeed institutions like the University of Birmingham, to kick start their positioning and engagement on important climate change impacts in the lead up to COP28.
From now until November, governments, industry and the scientific community must intensify their efforts to help bridge the gaps between research, education, policy, and practice. Partnership (as captured in SDG 17) is the only way to identify and action the most pressing real-world impacts at pace and scale. This is essential in the face of the climate emergency.
The Birmingham Institute for Sustainability & Climate Action (BISCA) is connecting and delivering world-leading, transdisciplinary research on sustainability and fostering climate action through such partnerships.
Cross-border exchanges are particularly valuable as they make it possible to share resources and human capacities. These vital international exchanges are something that can be facilitated by institutions with campuses in multiple locations - like the University of Birmingham with its presence in the UK and Dubai.
With COP28 taking place in the UAE - which benefits from particularly robust international ties across the public, private and academic sectors - all climate stakeholders have a tremendous opportunity to turbocharge knowledge and experience exchanges like never before.
There are, of course, some significant threats to global scientific collaboration and exchanges, which must be addressed ahead of COP28 and overcome collectively if we are to achieve our climate targets. Global crises, such as geopolitical polarisation and economic turmoil, can lead countries to be more insular, even if their scientists are not. While competition can, of course, be a catalyst for innovation, there is a point at which aggressive competition can be counterproductive and block the flow of data and knowledge.
At this time of geopolitical tension and economic strife, all stakeholders – and certainly not just researchers – must actively engage in sharing ideas that transcend borders, with no single country holding a monopoly on them.
Aside from politics, there are several barriers to exchange and collaboration that must be brought down as a matter of urgency. Governments must work to overcome the complex and uncertain landscape of regulations and data jurisdictions, as well as the lack of universal platforms for data sharing. Both policy and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies have a vital role to play here.
Finally, there is the issue of funding. Shifting government priorities – often shaped by macroeconomic forces – can lead to unstable and short-term funding environments. There are also shrinking dedicated funding mechanisms to support climate research across regions.
What we need is a truly shared international agenda on climate research and impacts, a stable framework for international funding, and a global environment that enables rapid innovation. That is a big ask, but we are dealing with the biggest and most important of all the global challenges.
It was clear to me in attending ADSW, where some of the world’s leading innovation trailblazers gathered and conversed, that we need to engage in an era of vigorous collaboration that could define COP28 – and crucially the next few decades of climate action for the water sector and beyond. We must connect opportunities for partnership with upmost urgency.
Professor David Hannah, University of Birmingham – UNESCO Chair in Water Science; Director of Birmingham Institute for Sustainability & Climate Action