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Discussing the frontlines of water at the United Nations

The University of Bergen’s proposal for a side event at the 2023 UN Water Conference has been chosen from among 1,300 submitted proposals as one of 200 official side events inside the UN headquarters. A small delegation is heading to New York for the conference.

The river Nile
SIDE EVENT: UiB is organising a side event on SDG6, Clean water and sanitation for all, at the UN 2023 Water Conference in March 2023. The photo shows the river Nile.
Terje Tvedt


‘’We are delighted that the University of Bergen will have this presence at the 2023 Water Conference (UNWC23) to discuss the challenges of implementing SDG6, clean water and sanitation for all,” says archaeologist Tore Sætersdal, Deputy Director and Academic Coordinator of UiB’s Global Challenges.

A history of water science

Dr. Sætersdal has a long track record in water research, having been the director of the Nile Basin Research Programme (2005-2012), funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since 2013, Sætersdal has been principal investigator for several projects funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad). Currently he heads the NORHED II project Water ESSENCE Africa, which has also been registered as a Water Action Agenda (WAA) commitment for UNWC23. The project involves 11 universities from seven countries.

“It felt natural to register Water ESSENCE as a WAA and present this as part of our side event at the conference,” says Sætersdal, “and also bringing along partners in the project as co-organisers of the side event.”

He is referring to the University of Development Studies in Tamale, Ghana, and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, who are among the partners in Water ESSENCE.

“This will be my first presence at this kind of high-level event,” Sætersdal says, “and in particular I look forward to engaging in the exchange of knowledge with partners and to enter into dialogue with policy makers.”

Track record on the science-policy nexus

The University of Bergen, however, has a long track record of being present at UN high-level events. Expertise at the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research has long been involved in the UN Climate Change (UNFCCC) reports. The university holds a key role on SDG14, Life Below Water, for both United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) and the UNESCO affiliated International Association of Universities (IAU), both of which are co-organisers of UiB’s UNWC23 side event.

“UiB’s direct engagement in dialogues between science and diplomacy at the United Nations really started with the 2017 UN Ocean Conference in June 2017,” says Professor Edvard Hviding, an anthropologist who has increasingly made science diplomacy on the ocean-climate nexus part of his research.

“Our engagement at the Ocean Conference was the first in a string of side events in United Nations context organised by the University of Bergen and partners between 2017 and 2020,” says the anthropologist.

Climate, ocean, water

During the COVID-19 lockdown period the activity was somewhat subdued, but there were a handful of virtual events including the Ocean Sustainability Bergen (OSB) Conference and a side event on transforming ocean education at the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) 2021.

“It’s good for our university to be back in person at these events and to share our science and knowledge directly with policy makers of United Nations member states. Also, it will be good for us to meet in New York with university partners and various UN missions and agencies,” says Hviding, who adds:

“After a number of events where we’ve looked at the SDG13/SDG14 nexus, it’s good to expand this scope by adding SDG6, thus broadening our impact on the UN scene. Having an official side event under UN auspices is not something to be taken for granted, and UiB is one of only very few universities worldwide to gain such a place in the spotlight at the upcoming Water Conference.”