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The Guardian view on a water crisis: targets need to be binding | Editorial

The global response to an escalating water crisis is belated and inadequate. But last week’s UN conference was an important marker

The more than 700 pledges that emerged from the UN water conference, which concluded last weekend, were an insufficient response to the worsening global water crisis. But the scientific panel that the UN has committed to create, along with a new water envoy, should help bring greater clarity and raise awareness of the multiplying risks. These include sea level rises, floods, droughts and other extreme weather caused by global heating, and the lack of access of about 2 billion people to clean drinking water. The trouble is that the commitments made by attenders – who included very few world leaders – are voluntary and unenforceable. Given the broken climate pledges of the past, there is every reason to worry that the promises will not be kept.

Many participants in the three days of talks in New York were angered by the prominent role played by corporations, including manufacturers who are heavy users of water, and the lack of representation of grassroots organisations from the poorer countries that are the worst affected. As with recent reports of the influence of oil companies in US universities, there are growing concerns about the ways in which businesses are seeking to shape environmental legislation, and public understanding of the threats, to promote their own short-term economic interests.

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