Climate Crisis: Canada’s role in finding a way forward  

3 min read
Village women walk on cracked ground, towards a pond to collect water at Vitaranga, Gunari, Dacope, Khulna, Bangladesh, March 2018.
Image: WaterAid/ Abir Abdullah

The climate crisis is a water crisis. The Conference of the Parties (COP26), the world’s premier climate conference, will soon be held in Glasgow. Many consider it the last opportunity for world leaders to get runaway climate change under control before this crucial decade draws to a close. Leaders of government, civil society, business, academics, and negotiators are gathering for 12 days of talks, intending to reach a global agreement to confront and contain the climate catastrophe.  

The climate scenarios predict that up to 700 million people will be displaced because of water scarcity by 2030.  While the climate crisis is often discussed in terms of carbon emissions, people also feel the impacts of climate change through water. Extreme weather – floods, storms, rising temperatures, and prolonged droughts – are piling pressure on water and sanitation systems already overburdened by inadequate infrastructure, poor management, and insufficient government investment.  This hinders good hygiene practices, increases the spread of disease, and significantly reduces productivity.

Now, two billion people do not have a source of drinking water they can rely on. As the threats posed by climate change intensify, these people are most vulnerable. As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, almost every country worldwide committed to provide financial support to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of our changing climate. Six years on, still not enough money is flowing to the frontlines. There has been insufficient investment and attention being paid to the effects of climate change on clean water and sanitation services. Funding for domestic water and sanitation adaptation globally accounts for less than 2% of total climate finance. Within this, even less is spent in the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

Most critical among the necessary solutions are reliable sources of water that keep pumping through flood, drought, and natural disaster. Resilient water services save lives, are an essential part of everyday life and are key to enabling businesses and economies all over the world to adapt and thrive.

The Canadian government has stated repeatedly that it is committed to strong national and global action against climate change, including international climate finance, which helps developing countries fight and adapt to climate change.  In preparation for the upcoming COP26, Canada is co- leading with Germany a process to engage with global partners on a plan to deliver on the US$100 billion annual climate finance goal through 2025.  Here’s how Canada can ensure this plan translates to impact:

  • Insist that high income countries live up to their commitments and fulfill their responsibilities to provide new and additional climate finance in line with the $100 billion annual commitments already made.
  • Ensure that those investments focus increasingly on funding for water, sanitation, and hygiene in low-income and low-and-middle income countries. 
  • A commitment from low-income countries to keep their promises on climate finance and to ensure that adaptation investments support water, sanitation, and hygiene services, as part of their national climate action plans.
  • A commitment from multilateral and bilateral donors and private sector investors to ensure that increased water investments benefit the poorest and most vulnerable communities who already feel the adverse effects of climate change on livelihoods, health, and wellbeing.

As we urge the Canadian government at COP26, to be ambitious in its targets and actions and to advocate for greater investment in water and sanitation in low-income countries, there remain Indigenous communities in Canada who still lack access to safe, clean water. The Sustainable Development Goals call for access to clean water for everyone, everywhere by 2030. The human right to water must include every community, remote, rural, and urban, at home and abroad.

Water must not be taken for granted. The threat posed to water by climate change is an existential crisis. Water is life. We must hold our leaders accountable to ensure it is protected now and for future generations.


This op-ed was written by Maureen O’Neil, Order of Canada, Chair WaterAid International, past President of the International Development Research Center, (IDRC) and