In an ambitious move towards global water management and conservation, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan and France’s President Emmanuel Macron have announced that they will co-chair the inaugural One Water Summit in the margins of the 2024 United Nations General Assembly. The announcement was made on December 1, during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) held in Dubai.
The One Water Summit will be a significant milestone in international efforts to address the world’s water challenges. It will aim to foster dialogue and co-operation among nations and organisations seeking to promote sustainable water management, to protect water resources and to advance trans-boundary water co-operation.
Both leaders have shown serious dedication to answering water security challenges
President Tokayev’s leadership of the One Water Summit builds on Kazakhstan’s commitment to environmental sustainability as well as its pro-active role in addressing global challenges. As a country confronted with complex water security challenges, Kazakhstan has a vested interest in promoting sustainable water-management practices and sharing its experiences with the global community.
At the COP28, Tokayev specifically drew attention to desiccation of the Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth largest body of inland water, which still serves as a critical water reserve for both Kazakhstan and neighbouring Uzbekistan. President Tokayev called for allocating more resources to support the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS), a pan-Central Asian organisation that seeks to address the ecological crisis. Kazakhstan will assume chairmanship of the Fund next year.
Central Asian countries are highly vulnerable to climate change. President Tokayev has warned that even if the global temperature rise is limited to 1.5 degrees by 2050, as foreseen by the Paris Agreement, Central Asia could still face a 2.5-degree increase, potentially causing water scarcity, extreme heat, desertification and severe hydrological events.
Central Asia’s water and energy resources are closely intertwined given that Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan control most of the water and trade it with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan for energy. President Tokayev has played an active role in promoting water and energy security in the region. His initiatives include revitalising the agreement on the use of the Syr Darya River’s resources, advocating for a Project Office focussing on climate issues and raising concerns about the possibility that climate change will make freshwater scarce. These initiatives have improved the chances that better resource management will lead to a more sustainable and peaceful future for the region.
In his address to COP28, Tokayev also invited participating states to the Astana International Forum in June 2024. The Forum will serve as a platform for continued dialogue and focus attention on co-operative approaches to acute climate-related issues through next year’s COP29 meeting. Tokayev also announced that a Regional Climate Summit will be convened in Kazakhstan in 2026 under UN auspices to build momentum in Central Asia for climate action.
France, the other co-chair of the One Water Summit, has been instrumental in advancing international discussions on water and climate change, including at the UN-Water Summit on Groundwater held in Paris in December 2022. French President Emmanuel Macron has consistently emphasised the importance of water management in mitigating the impacts of climate change.
President Macron has also been pro-active in addressing water security issues in Central Asia. His visits to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have focused not just on strengthening ties but also on promoting sustainable water practices. Macron’s plan for France’s water sovereignty is being extended to assist these countries in the conservation and efficient use of their hydrological resources. His visits to the region prioritised these topics.
The One Water Summit presents a critical step towards tackling climate change
The Summit is expected to encourage specific and detailed commitments from countries and organisations so as to advance trans-boundary water co-operation. These commitments will be key to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6, set out by the United Nations, which aims to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” by 2030.
The co-chairmanship of the One Water Summit by Kazakhstan and France highlights the growing recognition of water management as an integral part of climate action. It also underscores the importance of international co-operation in addressing global environmental challenges.
In summary, Kazakhstan’s high-profile participation in the inaugural One Water Summit further reflects the country’s commitment to effectively addressing key water security challenges. In Central Asia, the pressing issues include the desiccation of the Aral Sea and the region’s high vulnerability to climate change. The Summit also aligns with France’s existing efforts to advance international discussions on water and climate change. UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 on water and sanitation helps frame these efforts to promote water conservation and management on both a regional and a global scale.