Picking up the pace on climate action: Building momentum from COP28

Picking up the pace on climate action: Building momentum from COP28

Austin Alexander, Vice President, Sustainability and Social Impact at Xylem

At the halfway point of the Paris Agreement, the legally binding international treaty on climate action, average global temperatures are already hitting 1.8°C above pre-industrial levels and future projections are stark. At COP28 in December, we could not escape the reality that progress is significantly off track. 

But this is not a time for pessimism. Reflecting on 2023, and particularly the UN Water Conference in March and COP28 in December, I am optimistic that collective action can drive progress on adaptation and mitigation.

At these events, there was a sense of urgency that led to a new level of focused, open problem-solving. We must carry that momentum forward this year.

Water is rising on the agenda. The importance of water was recognized in the final text of the COP28 global stocktake, particularly the “critical role of protecting, conserving and restoring water systems and water-related ecosystems in delivering climate adaptation benefits and co-benefits, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards.”

Policymakers are beginning to understand what water operators already know: the success of our societies and economies depends on our ability to manage water more sustainably. 

As we pick up the pace in 2024, here are three areas where I believe the water sector can make real progress. 

1. Cross-sector collaboration

As private sector companies become more open about the importance of water in their value chain, the water sector has an opportunity to deepen our dialogue. Water is being recognized for its importance to business, giving us an opening to push for more collaboration between industry, technology providers, governments, and water utilities. In 2024, we can drive the conversation on water consumption by industry, from agriculture to technology.

2. Elevate utility voices 

The most important voice is often the one we hear the least - water utilities. Water was a constant source of discussion at COP28, with significant talks being held about mitigation, adaptation, and accelerating the water sector to net zero. At critical global forums including COP29, it’s essential that we elevate the utility voices to ensure action on water is realistic and effective.

3. Advance sustainable development through climate action 

In 2023, we reached half-time on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals including Goal 6 - safe drinking water and sanitation for all. We can’t lose focus on this goal. With the right approaches, climate and development goals can be mutually beneficial. This is particularly relevant for the developing world, where we can harness the water sector’s global experience to help developing countries leapfrog to sustainable, efficient water systems that can affordably serve communities.

The countdown to COP29 in Azerbaijan has already begun, and we have a lot of work to do. Through collaboration between the water sector, industry, and governments, we can capitalize on the momentum from 2023 and accelerate towards a more water secure world. 

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