COP26 Blog – Water Witness International on Adaptation

  • 08 Nov 2021
  • General News, Blog, COP26

Fair Water Footprints at COP26: Ending the abuse of water in our supply chains

As the climate crisis intensifies, our relationship with water is changing. Spiraling temperatures and erratic weather patterns have magnified concerns around pollution, unsustainable withdrawals, and uneven access to water and sanitation. But the truth is, the ways we use and abuse water across globalised supply chains have been troubling for a long time. 

Our water footprints shape water and climate security for millions of people. Over 40% of Europe’s water footprint lies outside its borders and 50% of the UK’s footprint is from unsustainable sources. Evidence shows how agribusiness is sucking water-tables dry to irrigate crops, while textile factories and mines pollute the water sources that sustain communities. The multinational companies and investors behind them influence as much as 70% of the world’s water use and employ one in five of the global workforce. Much of this takes place in the catchments, communities and cities which face the greatest water and climate challenges on earth.

That’s why Water Witness are calling on businesses, governments, and civil society to sign the Glasgow Declaration for Fair Water Footprints. The Declaration, launched at COP26 on Friday, has been developed in a unique partnership comprised of governments from the Global North and South, the private sector, financial institutions, and civil society. It could be pivotal in transforming how the global economy interacts with water. 

Asparagus production in the Ica Valley, Peru. Credit: Water Witness

What is a Fair Water Footprint?

The global production and consumption of food, clothes and other goods have a major influence on society’s climate and water-challenges, and their solutions. The water used within farms, factories, and mines, and for the growing, extraction and processing of raw materials can cause pollution and resource degradation and depletion, which means less water of poorer quality, and therefore greater vulnerability to climate variability, drought, disease, and conflict. 

This influence can be negative where water is used irresponsibly, or it can be a force for good. Fair water footprints are about people, communities, companies, investors, and governments working together to trigger positive change by ensuring that everything we produce and consume ‘does no harm’ and ‘does good’ for water security, climate resilience and attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. The ‘embedded’ water, or ‘water footprint’ of consumer goods and international trade links consumer and producer economies, and provides us with a new and exciting opportunity to leverage positive change. 

A fair water footprint means:

  • Zero pollution
  • Sustainable and equitable withdrawal and water use
  • Full access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene for workers
  • Working with and protecting nature
  • Planning for droughts and floods. 


Looking forwards

The Glasgow Declaration for Fair Water Footprints is a non-binding agreement and partnership that seeks to transform how the global economy interacts with water and strengthen community resilience. It will set out a range of joint and individual commitments that each constituency can get behind, plan towards and report against over the next decade.

Founding signatories include the governments of the United Kingdom, Malawi, Finland, Peru, Panama and Madagascar, companies including Diageo, Unilever, investment banks ACTIAM and Edentree, and NGOs including Water Witness, CDP, and Sanitation and Water for All. Through the Declaration and subsequent action plan, we aim to establish political commitment and trigger system change towards fair water footprints. 

Fair Water Footprints can ensure that globalised supply chains support, rather than undermine, shared water security, accelerating progress on development, water supply, and climate adaptation. As the climate emergency escalates, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the way we interact with water, and harness the power of our water footprints – as individuals, companies, and countries – to ensure a better future for all.