UN Water Conference: 300 billion dollars to address water issues

March 29, 2023

More than 700 pledges and $300 billion to address water issues. That is the outcome of the UN Water Conference held in New York last week. Wageningen University & Research was closely involved in the conference and organised an event on water and food. Wageningen researchers look back on a successful water summit.

Petra Hellegers, Professor of Water Resources Management, is one of the WUR researchers who attended the conference in New York. Hellegers compares the conference to the Paris climate summit: “This feels like the Paris moment for water. There was a positive atmosphere in the UN building, and it is wonderful that the agenda was adopted unanimously.” Programme Director for Sustainable Water Management Arjan Budding, who followed the developments from the Netherlands, is also optimistic: “This is an important step forward. On to the next one, I would say.”

Water Action Agenda

The UN conference resulted in a Water Action Agenda consisting of more than 700 commitments from national organisations. A total of nearly $300 billion has been promised for this purpose. One such commitment came from President of the Executive Board Sjoukje Heimovaara, who announced that WUR will invest €7.7 million in research on food systems and water in the coming years. In addition, WUR has committed to writing a chapter on water and food in the Water Action Agenda.

Sjoukje Heimovaara announces that WUR will invest €7.7 million in research on food systems and water
Sjoukje Heimovaara announces that WUR will invest €7.7 million in research on food systems and water

According to the Wageningen researchers, the connections made at the conference are at least as valuable as the agreements and commitments. Hellegers: “Perhaps the greatest gain of the conference is the momentum, the connections made to take this forward.” Karin Andeweg, team leader for Water & Food, also saw the added value of the informal circuit in New York: “It is very valuable to get to speak to people you don’t normally speak to easily. It was much needed to bring the connection between water and food to their attention, as it is something that most people don't think about.”

More space for water and food

In collaboration with nearly 20 partners, WUR organised a well-attended side event on the role of water within food systems. Despite food production being the largest consumer of water worldwide, it received relatively little attention at the conference. WUR’s side event was therefore aimed at giving this issue more prominence on the agenda. Budding: “People mostly work in their own bubble, but we need to take a much more integral perspective. Water, food, energy, ecosystems, trade, livelihoods: they are all interconnected.”

According to Karin Andeweg, the Wageningen side event had a lot of impact. “There were about 140 attendees, the room was completely full. With public and private actors from around the world, we launched a Global Working Group on Water and Food. We will meet again in September, in Wageningen.” So, certainly for WUR, the Water Conference is far from over. “We’re moving into action mode,” concludes Andeweg.