The COP 26 Outcome: A Retrospective for Developing Countries

After three decades of climate negotiations, the next big climate summit, COP 27, is set to open the curtain in Egypt, with the official tagline “together for implementation.” What remained in Glasgow was reviewed at the Bonn Climate Talks in June 2022. This blog primarily makes an effort to keep track of the Glasgow COP 26 outcome in order to pinpoint the agenda items on important thematic areas that deserve particular attention at the following COP.

Important Agendas of COP 26

  • Climate Mitigation – Keeping the Temperature rise within 1.5 degree Celsius
  • Climate Change Adaptation (Matters related to Adaptation) – Global Goal on Adaptation
  • Climate Finance (Long Term Finance and New Collective quantified goal on climate finance)
  • Completion of the Paris Rule book (Article 6 of the Paris Agreement)
  • Loss and Damage

Progress of Negotiation

Finance: The COP Presidency issued the latest draft on November 12, 2021; however, the final text differed significantly from the draft. For example, the draft text reflects a balance between adaptation and mitigation, which was omitted in the final version. The text also includes a discussion of doubling the adaptation finance. The text further reflects developed countries’ inaction in delivering $100 billion to developing countries. The COP president’s proposal includes the phrase “notes with serious concern the gap in relation to the developed country Parties” fulfilment of the goal of mobilising jointly US$ 100 billion per year by 2020,” which is consistent with the LDC position. Climate finance measurement and tracking mechanisms are being developed as provisional (under parenthesis). At COP 27, a high-level ministerial dialogue on climate finance agreed to mobilise $100 billion. At its fourth, fifth, and sixth sessions, the Ad Hoc Work Programme agreed to establish a new collective quantified goal. US$ 351.6 million pledged to Adaptation Fund, far exceeding the COP 25 pledge of US$ 129 million. LDC Fund has received a pledge of US$ 431 million, which is significantly higher than the COP 25 pledges of US$ 184 million. The Standing Committee on Finance is asked to keep working on definitions of climate finance. Three new collective quantified goals on climate finance were established for post-2025: establish an ad hoc work programme under the CMA from 2022-2024; conduct four technical expert dialogues as part of the ad hoc work programme, and convene a high-level ministerial dialogue beginning in 2022 and ending in 2024.

Figure 1 COP Plenary

Loss and Damage: Negotiation and progress on the loss and damage work programme were slower than expected. The Functions of the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage were agreed upon as one of the key achievements. A technical assistance facility for financial support for Loss and Damage has been agreed upon, and Santiago Network will be supported by the facility to provide financial support for technical assistance. However, the governance issue (reporting under both the CMA and the COP) was postponed until COP 27. (2022).

Adaptation: This year’s adaptation progress was insignificant. The agreement on a two-year work programme (2022-2023) aimed at operationalizing a Global Goal on Adaptation was the only notable progress. Aside from that, it was agreed to hold four workshops each year under the auspices of SBSTA and SBI.

Figure 2 Negotiation in progress

Climate Change Mitigation: The key mitigation achievement was limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The text also acknowledges reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent by 2030 compared to 2010, with a goal of reaching net-zero by mid-century. The COP decided to create a work programme to urgently increase mitigation ambition and implementation during this critical decade. CMA has requested that the secretariat update the Nationally Determined Contribution synthesis report (NDC). Beginning with the fourth CMA, the CMA has also decided to hold an annual high-level ministerial round table on pre-2030 ambition (2022).

Tangible Benefits for Developing Countries This year, the adaptation fund, which is based on voluntary contributions from developed countries, received US$ 351.6 million, while the LDC Fund received US$ 431 million in pledges from developed countries. As a result of these pledges, developing countries are expected to gain access to increased resources from both the LDC Fund and the Adaptation Fund. In the long run, once developed countries deliver US$ 100 billion, developing countries will receive an increased allocation.

Figure 3 Bangladesh delegation in the COP

Way forward for Egypt

Despite many achievements in Glasgow and Bonn, there was a general lack of progress as countries failed to reach a compromise in some critical areas, including who should pay for the damage caused by climate change and who should cut emissions further in the coming decade. A new finance mechanism for “loss and damage,” in particular, is expected to receive a strong push from developing countries after being left unresolved in Glasgow. Concerning the global goal of adaptation, the Egyptian presidency expects to use its long-aligned position with groups prioritising adaptation to transform the event into not only an “African COP,” but also an “Adaptation COP.” It is also expected that the Egyptian presidency’s vow to at least double the adaptation fund’s funding will adhere. Last but not least, the fact that the forthcoming conference is an African COP makes it the ideal location to address some of the persistent challenges facing developing countries, such as adaptation loss and damage and access to finance.

How our disaster-resilient homes will help people in coastal regions

The UNESCO Centre Dundee has been probing action research on household-level integrated water management to achieve resilience through water-induced disaster management and efficient use of renewable water resources. In this research, theories of social science theories, e.g., co-design and co-development principles (see figure 1), are utilised to design a disaster-resilient home in collaboration with the ‘at-risk’ communities in the coastal region of Bangladesh. The initial floor plan, elevation and 3D rendering are shown below in figure 2. 

Figure 1 Co-design and co-development design workshops
Figure 2: Plan and 3-D views of the demonstration prototype

Its main characteristics are as follows:
Hazard protection: The home has an amphibious foundation that allows it to float above flood water. It can also withstand a category four cyclonic storm and an earthquake with a magnitude of eight on the Richter scale. It grows stronger in a salty environment over time and serves as a makeshift home in the event of displacement during river/coastal erosion.

Food security: The Home produces enough food to support family members to achieve food security. The aquaponics method makes the best use of renewable water to grow fish and vegetables.

Net-Zero Transformation: On the way to achieving the Paris Agreements ‘Net Zero’ agenda, a household’s energy security is ensured through the use of various renewable energy options. In the presence of sunlight, photovoltaic cells are used, and wind turbines are used concurrently depending on the availability of air. Furthermore, biofuels are made from lavatory and kitchen waste.

Nature-Based Solution: This house has been built in accordance with the principles of the ‘Nature-Based Solution,’ using environmentally friendly, cost-effective, readily available, and locally sourced materials. Renewable sources of local materials such as bamboo and soil are extensively used based on the principle of ‘circular economy’.

Capacity Building: Training and employing locals in the construction process has resulted in technology transfer and the creation of new livelihood opportunities in the fields of ecological construction. The materials and special designs used in the construction of houses based on ancient ecology principles, e.g., Vastu principles, have ensured the best use of natural light and air.

Figure 3: Local artisans and craftsmen are working on the demonstration site

Climate Control: Energy modelling results depict that the summer and winter indoor temperatures will naturally range between 18 and 26 degrees Celsius throughout the year. The building materials used in the house provide adaptation co-benefits from greenhouse gas sequestration, which has the potential to absorb approximately 6 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas over the lifecycle. Researchers believe that after the necessary research and development, the three-bedroom house with a floor area of about 1,600 square feet could be valued just at £2,500 to £ 3,500 for ‘upscaling’ and used to address the risks of climate-vulnerable communities all over the world.

Sustainable Development: The cost of building the same size duplex home in Bangladesh is about ten times higher, and up to fifty times higher in developed countries. Furthermore, its durability is several times that of conventional building materials, and it provides health benefits because no harmful chemicals are used in its construction. Thirteen of the seventeen sustainable development goals can be addressed by various disaster-resistant house features.

The construction of Disaster Resilient Home: Resilience Solutions in Bangladesh started constructing a disaster-resilient home prototype since March 2022 under the planning and supervision of the UNESCO Centre for Water Law Policy and Science.

COP26, adaptation and water governance

As COP27 in Egypt gets ever closer, there is increasing focus on the key issues of loss and damage, adaptation and financing, especially after the recent meeting in Bonn. Financing will be the subject of an upcoming blog on this site, but linking both adaptation and loss and damage to freshwater remains a priority for the Centre. Implementation of the Paris Agreement goals will be the primary focus of COP27 but water is likely to loom large in discussions, given its strategic importance for Egypt.

At the last COP in Glasgow, the Centre tried to draw these issues together, holding an event specifically addressing climate change, adaptation, loss and damage, and water. (“Climate Change and Water: The Missing Agenda at COP26” – details and video of the event are available at https://www.ooskanews.com/story/2021/11/scotland-climate-change-and-water-missing-agenda-climate-conference). The session, held in conjunction with the Scottish Government and UNESCO, was attended by members of the UNESCO Water Family. Although the disciplinary backgrounds of those taking part covered a broad range, the meeting concentrated on ways in which improved governance, rather than scientific advances alone, might help. Governance is a word with multiple meanings depending on context, but we interpreted it to mean the legal, policy and institutional aspects of water. From the COP perspective, water is the key area where the impacts of climate change will be felt, so successful adaptation will depend very much on how effectively water is managed.

Governance approaches to water vary a lot around the world, with solutions often driven by local situations. This is because the impacts of climate change differ depending on location- partly because of climatological reasons, but also in part because the ability of states and communities to respond effectively varies across space and time. This could be because of financial constraints, but it may also be the result of restrictions imposed by state practice elsewhere on international basins. It is difficult for states to be able to compare best practices, so meetings such as this can be useful conduits for communicating across borders and basins. Ensuring governance reflects up-to-date science is critical – the Centre was founded on the principle that the lawyers need to talk to the scientists. The need to better understand and communicate the importance of governance in achieving water security in the context of climate change has been prioritised by UNESCO in its latest water strategy (see the IHP-IX at <https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000381318>).

In addition to the loss and damage event, the Centre also took part in an event held at the University of Strathclyde with the IWRA, “Water solutions for our changing climate” (again, video of the event can be found at <Water solutions for our changing climate>). The focus of this meeting was on nature-based solutions as a way of adapting to climate change, and comparing practice globally. With the assistance of the Tweed Forum (https://tweedforum.org/), a field trip to the Eddleston Water in the Scottish Borders was organised following this event, allowing participants to see examples of nature based solutions in action. Eddleston Water, a 69 sq km sub-catchment of the Tweed, is the subject of the Scottish Government’s long-running research study on the effectiveness of nature-based solutions to reduce the risk of flooding to downstream communities and improve wildlife habitats. Participants on the bus tour were able to see the Natural Flood Management (NFM) measures that have been installed since 2011 . NFM measures which reduce the impact of the increasing frequency and magnitude of floods driven by climate change include the installation of 135 woody-debris dams, planting of over 330,000 native trees, the re-meandering 3.5km of river and the creation of 38 ponds to temporarily store floodwater and improve biodiversity. This has been accompanied by an extensive and very detailed monitoring programme covering hydrological and ecological impacts, spawning a number of novel empirical and model-based research papers (see for example Black et al, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jfr3.12717; and Hankin et al, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2468312421000080).

Nature-based climate change adaptation on the Eddleston – a woody-debris dam.

There is a great deal of innovation and good practice in adapting to the effects of climate change, but ensuring that this knowledge is openly available, and that governance frameworks are suitably robust and adaptable, is a much bigger challenge.

Politics and Water: The Great Stink

Post by Elaine Robinson and Andrew Allan

This week is World Water Week. To honour this event, today’s post will be looking at an example of the relationship between politics and water challenges, one of the issues being covered at the Stockholm event this year.

Getting the attention of political leaders can be difficult, especially if they are not directly affected by the problems. Last month, July 13th marked the 150th anniversary of the Royal opening of Victoria Embankment, part of the River Thames in London. Featured prominently on a memorial there is a representation of Joseph Bazalgette, chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works. His ideas, of which the Victoria Embankment is an integral part, led to the sewer system that still underpins London today. This system only came into being because the politicians in Parliament were so overwhelmed by the stench of the sewage-laden Thames outside their windows.

During the 1800s, various types of waste flushed into the River Thames, resulting in diseases such as cholera as well as producing a terrible odour. Such was the state of the river that it was featured in newspapers of the time, and major figures such as Charles Dickens wrote about the “offensive smells” of the river in letters to friends. In an especially prescient letter titled Observations on the Filth of the Thames, Michael Faraday described the foul-smelling, dark sludge that the river had become, and warned: “I fear it is rapidly becoming the general condition. If we neglect this subject, we cannot expect to do so with impunity; nor ought we to be surprised if ere, many years are over, a hot season give us sad proof of the folly of our carelessness.” Faraday sent this both to The Times and the Houses of Parliament in 1855. In 1858, the resulting summer’s hot weather caused the effluence in the Thames to produce a powerful stench, dubbed The Great Stink.

Joseph Bazalgette Memorial
Joseph Bazalgette Memorial. Image Credit: Matt Brown

The work of Dr John Snow and Rev Henry Whitehead suggested that outbreaks of cholera could be caused by a dirty water supply, but the theory held at the time was that of miasma – airborne disease caused by foul smells – and thus the idea was not paid much heed. The miasma theory may have been incorrect for outbreaks of waterborne disease such as cholera, but crucially, it led to Parliament agreeing on the construction of a new sewer system for London. The development of the London sewers was part of a mid-19th Century process to improve sanitation in cities, after a number of cholera outbreaks occurred across Europe.

Bazalgette created a new network of sewers, collecting both waste and rainwater. Pumping stations were built, and the Chelsea, Albert, and Victoria embankments were created to aid the development of the sewer system. Over 1,000 miles of underground sewers now cater to London. Bazalgette had the foresight to incorporate a degree of adaptability, to cope with an expanding population, but London’s growth has become such that new development is needed. The Thames Tideway Tunnel – London’s new “super sewer” which began construction in 2016, aims to service this need. Although Bazalgette’s sewer system helped to ensure that diseases such as cholera did not have such a hold on the citizens of London, the sewage was carried out to sea rather than treated.

One the of the remarkable things about the construction of Bazalgette’s system was the lack of action on the part of the politicians at the time: they were only willing to agree to his proposed plans when it directly affected them, rather than the thousands of other Londoners already suffering. In a fiery article on the 18th of June 1858 The Times noted this self-interest: “We can bear the calamities of our neighbours with remarkable self-possession, but when the black ox sets his hoof upon our own foot it is wonderful how filled we are with sympathy for all mankind.”

SDG 6 card
Sustainable Development Goal 6

Work on ensuring access to clean water and sanitation continues at a much greater scale, most notably in the context of SDG Targets 6.2 and 6.3, which focus on sanitation and hygiene, and water quality and wastewater.  2.4 billion people still lack access to basic sanitation services. Diarrhoeal diseases resulting from water-borne contaminants infect millions every year and are one of the most severe threats to childhood health. Ensuring that politicians understand the need for action not only in their own countries but globally is crucial – the fact that Water and Politics is one of the key themes in Stockholm this week highlights how much work still has to be done.

A One-Way Street? Examining the Supply of Environmental Information in Managing Flood Risk in Scotland

Post by Sean Whittaker

This week sees the sixty-seventh Compliance Committee to the Aarhus Convention. The Aarhus Convention, adopted in 1998, establishes environmental information rights to the public. Today’s post is by Sean Whittaker, one of the research members of the Uncovering the Environment project at the University of Dundee. His post looks at the co-production of information in relation to managing flood risk in Scotland.

Urban and rural flooding is a significant issue in Scotland. Flooding can damage buildings and infrastructure, disrupt communities, inflict economic losses and cause fatalities. This risk is further heightened by the impacts of climate change. The Scottish Government’s approach to mitigating flood risk relies on the public engaging with flood risk mitigation measures. Yet this engagement, and the necessary flow of environmental information, is more nuanced than may be originally expected.

Car under footbridge during floods
Flooding in the Borders town of Peebles
Credit Tweed Forum

The primary direction of environmental information under such measures is from the Government to interested individuals. This can be seen in the Aarhus Convention, which guarantees the right for individuals to request the disclosure of environmental information from the state. In Scotland this has been implemented by the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004. Under the Regulations individuals are viewed as passive recipients of environmental information: they are granted access to the requested information by a government which is implied to hold all of the relevant information.

However, viewing the relationship between the state and citizens as a “one-way street” unduly reduces the potential role of citizens in providing information to the state. In reality governments often do not hold every piece of relevant information, and individual citizens can hold or create information which is of great value to flood risk mitigation efforts. This broader approach to the role of citizens in relation to information can be seen in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which places citizens at the heart of disaster risk mitigation efforts.

Recognising the role of citizens in providing environmental information can take many forms. A common method of seeking information from citizens is the use of Environmental Impact Assessments, which enables the public to provide their opinion on proposed plans and highlight any information they feel has been omitted. Another method used by SEPA is Report A Flood, which enables individuals to report localised flooding incidents to SEPA.

Yet an often-overlooked method of citizens producing environmental information is citizen science initiatives. Citizen science is defined as collaborative research involving the public into scientific projects, and differs from the previously discussed forms of public engagement due to the formal partnership between scientists and the public impacting how the data is collected and presented. In Scotland citizen science has been used to monitor rivers that are at risk of flooding, providing data to public authorities which cannot generate this data themselves.

In this way, it is important to not underplay the role of individuals in providing and generating environmental information themselves. While the Government does act as the primary source of information, this does not mean that citizens cannot contribute or create valuable information of their own. Indeed, citizens contributing environmental information, either held or generated by them, can improve environmental protection efforts and bridge the gaps in the state’s own knowledge. This is not always easy: the different forms of citizen participation each have their own benefits and risks, which must be managed. However, the benefits of opening up the “one-way street” can be significant, and the Government should not be quick to discount the information that can be provided or created by citizens.

Celebrating Dr Ignaz Semmelweis

Post by Andrew Allan, Chris Spray, and Elaine Robinson

Yesterday was the 202nd anniversary of the birth of Dr Ignaz Semmelweis, the Hungarian ‘father of infection control’. It was Semmelweis who identified the need for hand washing by surgeons in order to prevent the spread of disease, presaging the later work of Pasteur and Lister on germs. The story of Semmelweis’s innovation, his ultimate failure to convince the authorities and his ignominious death is a tragic one, the reverberations of which are still of great relevance today.

A portrait of Ignaz Semmelweis
Ignaz Semmelweis

Semmelweis was an obstetric surgeon in Vienna’s main hospital in the 1840s. The hospital ran two maternity units, one doctor-led and the other run by midwives. The mortality rate in the former had risen to three times that of the latter, following the decision by Semmelweis’s superior to introduce autopsies to the hospital. Surgeons in the first clinic would work on cadavers in the morning before moving to the obstetric wards, but crucially would not wash their hands in between. Although he did not fully understand the transmission process, Semmelweis reasoned that some as yet unidentified diseased matter from the autopsies might be the cause, and this could perhaps be removed by effective hand washing. If correct, then the number of women infected with puerperal fever and subsequently dying could be reduced. Despite the observed success of hand washing measures in the hospital in bringing down the number of deaths, the medical establishment refused to accept his findings. There were a number of reasons for this, not least their resistance to change but perhaps also because they could not admit that their malpractice was actually killing women. A frustrated Semmelweis was committed to the brutality of a Vienna asylum which ultimately killed him.

Many analogies and extrapolations can be made from this story in relation to modern day water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices and gender imbalances. Applying a liberal degree of artistic licence, there are also possible echoes in the wider area of integrated water resource management. There is an immediate topicality in relation to the benefits of hand washing in the context of COVID-19, but a wider interpretation highlights the need for evidence-based policy. Policy and its implementation need to be responsive to improvements in scientific understanding – recent reporting on the fact that many US flood maps have not been revised for years and therefore no longer accurately reflect flood risks is a case in point. The IWRM paradigm is supposed to be a self-improving system, but this fails if it does not incorporate scientific progress.

Diagram of hand and soap
Semmelweis discovered the importance of hand washing in clinical practice

The Semmelweis experience also illustrates the need for precautionary approaches. The reason his approach worked was not understood at the time, but the authorities at the hospital rejected his theory despite its demonstrable benefits. A more precautionary response would have sought to capitalise on the advantages for maternal health and to work out the scientific detail later. Many of the reasons that prevented Semmelweis’s conclusions being put into more general practice apply to the governance of water resource management, whether through institutional inertia; knee-jerk responses to indigenous knowledge, foreign expertise and citizen science; or failure to adapt to changing climatic circumstances.

Supporting better decisions across the nexus of water-energy-food challenges

Today we have a guest post from Fortune Gomo, a Hydro Nation scholar at the Centre, about the findings of her PhD thesis, which she successfully defended in March.

Post by Fortune F. Gomo

Our planet Earth is facing increasing environmental pressures, and this has resulted in resource shortages, leading to water, energy and food insecurity, hampering economic development, social and geopolitical tensions and irreparable environmental damage. In addition, there is an imperative need to improve the livelihoods of the ‘bottom billion’ who have no access to clean water, electricity and are undernourished, of which a significant proportion are in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 75% of the population in the region are employed in agriculture, with a significant proportion of smallholder farmers; and 20% of the electricity generated in the basin coming from hydropower. In Malawi, 98% of electricity comes from hydropower, and more than 80% of the population is employed in the agriculture sector.

The water-energy-food (WEF) nexus approach recognises the crucial interdependence of the three sectors. But there is a lack of integrative approaches and tools for policy makers, businesses and land managers that enable better decision making across a range of scales. Through this study, we sought to understand the intersectoral and cross-scale challenges and interactions of the WEF sectors in Malawi.

I interviewed some key national stakeholders in the WEF sectors in Malawi to identify the key challenges in the WEF sectors and understand the WEF system of Malawi (Figure 1). I used the DPSIR (drivers-pressures-states-impacts-responses) framework to understand the intra-sectoral and inter-sectoral interactions of the identified challenges. Understanding the challenges and how they interact can enable policy makers and decision makers to integrate not only across sectors and across scales, from local to regional and address the challenges for sustainable development.

WEF System of Malawi (adapted from Altamirano et al., 2018)

From the interviews with the national level stakeholders, and from reviewing the existing WEF policy framework in Malawi, we found that the responses to the challenges identified, i.e. the policies, strategies and plans, prioritised sectoral expansion for all three sectors to improve access to water and energy and to increase agricultural production and productivity.

The agricultural sector was found to be key to the WEF nexus in Malawi. The sector also utilises a large proportion of land and water resources and needs some energy input for the achievement of its policy objectives, especially the irrigation expansion objective. This makes it imperative for the agricultural sector to work together in an integrated manner with the water and energy sectors to achieve their goals through maximising synergies by collectively addressing common challenges, and minimising trade-offs across sectors.

How is the academic literature framing public participation in the management of Scotland’s fresh and coastal waters?

Post by Cathy Smith

The latter twentieth century saw a global shift towards ‘participatory’ approaches in environmental management. Calls for public participation have had different emphases, from normative arguments that foreground democracy, equity and human rights, to pragmatic arguments that direct involvement makes people more likely to agree with management interventions, or that local knowledge helps adapt management to context. Since the late 1990s the public right to participation in environmental management has been enshrined in various policies and legal instruments with relevance for Scotland’s fresh and coastal waters.

In 1998, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Aarhus Convention established the rights of the public to participate in environmental decision-making. In 2000, the European Union (EU) Water Framework Directive called on member states to consult the public and involve stakeholders in creating river basin management plans. In 2008 the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive similarly called for public participation in creating national and regional marine plans. Scotland has ratified these directives, creating plans for two River Basin Districts and starting marine planning processes with a National Marine Plan and regional plans for the Clyde and Shetland Isles. Scotland has also adopted the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, of which Target 6.B, under Goal 6 (sustainable management of water and sanitation for all), calls for the ‘participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management’. There are also a number of local stakeholder partnerships that have created plans for integrated river catchment or coastal management independently of Government-led processes, including the Tweed Forum.

We recently used Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science (WoS) to examine which of these policy and legal instruments are referenced in academic papers that discuss public participation in fresh or coastal water management in Scotland. Our search threw up 46 papers, all published since 2000. The Water Framework Directive is mentioned in 59 percent of the papers. Equal amounts of papers referenced the government-led river basin management planning and marine planning processes as referenced independent local stakeholder partnerships. Interestingly, the Water Framework Directive was used to frame both government-led and independent planning processes. The SDGs are mentioned only in one of the papers (and this paper does not reference any of the goals specifically). This fits with a finding we shared in a recent blog post, that little research around SDG 6 is centred on developed countries. Far more could be done to link ongoing efforts in Scotland to the SDG agenda.

Publication trends about Sustainable Development Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation 2: Research focus

Post by Cathy Smith

In 2015 the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by world leaders. The 17 goals are a call to action for all countries, recognising that many issues, such as ending poverty, protecting ecosystems, tackling the climate crisis and ending violent conflict, are intricately interlinked. While many of the goals are relevant to fresh water in some way, the most directly relevant is SDG 6, ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’. This two-part blog post looks at trends in academic publishing related to SDG 6, using data from Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science (WoS), an online portal for searching multiple databases containing bibliographic records from over ten thousand of the world’s academic journals. In today’s post we look at what is being published: Which academic disciplines are publishing papers referring to SDG 6, do the publications link SDG 6 to the other SDGs, and which of the eight specific targets under SDG 6 are getting the most attention?

We searched for all papers on WoS that mention SDG 6 in the title, keywords or abstract, and found 167 relevant papers, all published since 2015. WoS automatically associates each paper with one or more of five broad research areas: arts & humanities, life sciences & biomedicine, physical sciences, social sciences, technology. We found that most of the papers fall under natural sciences, while social sciences, arts and humanities are underrepresented. This may, in part, reflect biases in the journals included in WoS (e.g. many law journals are not included).

We found that only 31% of the papers explicitly refer to one of the other SDGs in the title, keywords or abstract. The other SDGs most often referred to are SDG 6 are SDG 13 (climate action), SDG 15 (life on land), SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 7 (energy) and SDG 3 (good health and wellbeing).

69 percent of the papers do not mention one of the eight SDG 6 targets specifically. Of the SDG 6 targets specifically mentioned, targets 6.1 (safe and affordable drinking water for all) 6.2 (adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end to open defecation) are the most referred to. Targets and 6.6 (protection and restoration of freshwater ecosystems), 6.A (international cooperation and capacity building) and 6.B (community participation) are the least referred to. This suggests that water in the environment and water governance are less commonly associated with SDG 6 than supply of water to people and industry. This might be related to the fact that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which preceded the SDGs, were more focussed on development than environment, and only referred to fresh water in terms of total water resource consumption, safe drinking water and sanitation. Research is certainly being done in areas related to integrated water resource management and water governance, but it is not commonly being linked explicitly to the SDG agenda.

Publication trends about Sustainable Development Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation 1: Geographical focus

Post by Cathy Smith

In 2015 the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by world leaders. The 17 goals are a call to action for all countries, recognising that many issues, such as ending poverty, protecting ecosystems, tackling the climate crisis and ending violent conflict, are intricately interlinked. While most of the goals are relevant to fresh water in some way, the most directly relevant is SDG 6, ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’. This two-part blog post looks at trends in academic publishing related to SDG 6, using data from Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science (WoS), an online portal for searching multiple databases containing bibliographic records from over ten thousand of the world’s academic journals. In today’s post we look at geographical trends: Which countries are being studied in relation to SDG 6, which countries are publishing about SDG 6, and do the two align?

We searched for all papers on WoS that mention SDG 6 in the title, keywords or abstract, and found 167 relevant papers, all published since 2015. Just over half of the papers focus on a specific geographical area (in a named country or region), and the rest give a general or global analysis. While both developed and developing countries have adopted the SDGs there is a clear emphasis on developing countries in the papers: of those that named a specific geographical area, 85 percent focus on a developing country or countries (here we used the UN’s classification of countries as developing or developed for 2019).

We also looked at the location of the institutions that authors of the papers are affiliated with. 70 different countries are represented by these institutions and 57% of the papers are linked to institutions in more than one country, suggesting a high level of international cooperation for research towards SDG 6. Despite the focus on developing countries within the papers themselves, developed countries dominate in publishing research referring to SDG 6, with the USA and UK publishing the most papers. 82% have at least one author in a developed country, and for 72%, the first author is based at an institution in a developed country.

These results are not surprising. They are part of a wider pattern of significant global inequality in the production of research. It is interesting, however, that while much research that explicitly refers to the SDGs is being published by authors based in developed countries, so little of it focuses on the developed countries themselves. There is certainly research being published about many aspects of fresh water use, condition and management that focuses on developing countries, but it seems that this research is not often being linked to the SDG agenda.