Photo: Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) states with “very high confidence” that the most effective measures for reducing vulnerability to the health impacts of climate change in the short-term include “programs that implement and improve basic public health measures such as provision of clean water and sanitation”. The report also notes that addressing deficits in essential services, including sanitation, can “significantly reduce hazard exposure and vulnerability to climate change” in urban areas, “especially for those who are most at risk or vulnerable”.

As the World Health Organization states in its “Manifesto for a healthy recovery from COVID-19”, resilience to future pandemics would be an important co-benefit of providing better water and sanitation services (WHO 2020). So far, however, the response to COVID-19 has rarely included promoting sanitation, particularly for vulnerable households not connected to a sewerage network (Giné et al. 2020).

To date, the role sanitation has played in climate action has been negligible. At the same time, sanitation policy and practice frequently overlook important climate considerations – around both adapting sanitation services to climate impacts, and mitigating the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions linked to service provision.

This policy brief sets out the evidence for increasing synergies between climate adaptation and sanitation development while minimizing related GHG emissions, and lays out some suggested steps that could improve coherence between climate and sanitation policy and action.