Cancellation of UN climate weeks removes platform for worst-hit communities

Comment: The UNFCCC has said it will not hold regional climate weeks in 2024 due to a funding shortfall – which means less inclusion for developing-country voices

A woman of the Turkana tribe waits with plastic containers to get water from a well, amid the worst drought in East Africa's history, February 17, 2023. (Photo: Simone Boccaccio / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)


If the world’s most vulnerable are not at the table, then UN climate talks are no longer fit for purpose.

This week, the UN climate change body (UNFCCC) confirmed that this year’s Regional Climate Weeks will be cancelled until further notice due to lack of funding.

The update comes shortly after UNFCCC chief Simon Stiell made an urgent plea at the Copenhagen Climate Ministerial last week to plug the body’s funding gap, stating that it is facing “severe financial challenges” – putting a rising workload at risk due to “governments’ failure to provide enough money”.

The suspension of the Regional Climate Weeks is hugely disappointing news.

It means that a vital platform to express the concerns of people and communities most affected by climate change has been taken away.

UN’s climate body faces “severe financial challenges” which put work at risk

The climate weeks are a vital opportunity to bring a stronger regional voice – those who are footing the bill in developing countries for a crisis they have done the least to cause – to the international table in the lead-up to the UN COP climate summits.

Last year we saw four regional climate weeks: Africa Climate Week in Nairobi, Kenya; Middle East and North Africa Climate Week in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Latin America and the Caribbean Climate Week in Panama City, Panama; and Asia-Pacific Climate Week in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

These attracted 26,000 participants in 900 sessions and brought together policymakers, scientists and other experts from the multiple regions, with fundamental contributions feeding into the COP28 agenda. 

At Africa Climate Summit alone, over 20 commitments were made by African heads of state – commitments and announcements that equated to a combined investment of nearly $26 billion from public, private sector and multilateral development banks, philanthropic foundations and other financing partners.

This is the right way forward because, while extreme weather events affect all of us, we know their impacts are not felt equally.

Shrinking water access

Extremes of both drought and floods are threatening people’s access to the three essentials they need to survive – clean waterdecent toilets and good hygiene – as boreholes run dry, floods wash away latrines, and supplies are contaminated by silt and debris.

Around the world, ordinary people – farmers, community leaders, family members – are doing everything they can to adapt to the realities of life on the frontlines of climate change.

They’re working together to monitor water reserves, conserving supplies to make every drop last. They’re sowing crops that can withstand droughts, and planting trees to protect them from floods. And they’re building with future threats in mind, raising homes and toilets off the ground and making them safe from floodwaters.

Expectations mount as loss and damage fund staggers to its feet

Each Regional Climate Week provides a vital platform for those shouldering the heaviest burden of the climate crisis – such as women and girls, people experiencing marginalisation, and Indigenous communities – to share their experiences, expertise, and unique perspectives.  

The climate crisis is a water crisis, and the people on the frontlines of this crisis are vital to solving it. 

With leadership and participation from those vulnerable communities and groups, we are all better equipped to adapt to our changing climate – and to ensure that everyone, everywhere has climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene.

Each and every UN climate conference matters. We urgently need global governments to fuel their words with action, open their wallets and prioritise the voices, experiences and solutions of those most affected by the climate crisis. If not, we’ll continue to see climate change wash away people’s futures.

Dulce Marrumbe is head of partnerships and advocacy at WaterAid’s regional office for Southern Africa.

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