A look back on 2023

UN Water – March 2023

In March 2023, the UN held its first water conference in almost 50 years, and we worked hard to put action for Fair Water Footprints at the heart of discussions.

We opened the conference with a press article by Nick Hepworth (Water Witness) and Sareen Malik (ANEW) on how the Conference could drive Fair Water Footprints to transform water governance for  water justice.

New research on Understanding the water footprints of the Global North and dependency on water use in the Global South and updated global water footprint data were launched at the conference.  It’s finding – that 50% of the water use from rivers and aquifers within the external water footprints of high-income economies is unsustainable, driving depletion, degradation, pollution, conflict, and climate vulnerability across the planet – has profound consequences, and underlines the urgency of our work.

Our formal event at the UN HQ in New York was attended by 200 people and featured Signatories including Minister Mia from the Government of Malawi, Juhani Damski, Permanent Secretary in the Finnish Government, Lord Goldsmith from the UK Government, Cate Lamb from CDP, Nick Hepworth from Water Witness, and Jehanne Fabre from Danone. You can watch the recording of the event here.  Our call for bold action for Fair Water Footprints was echoed in speeches across the Conference, and featured prominently in the official closing plenary, including in Lord Goldsmith’s address to the Conference. 

Finally, we provided a warm welcome to our new Signatories who joined the partnership at UN Water – WRAP, Banka BioLoo and Earth Guardians.

Stockholm World Water Week – August 2023

Fair Water Footprints Signatories inspired others to join our bold leadership effort in Stockholm this year, hosting a high-level reception at the UK Ambassador’s residence with our Transforming Water Governance Partners, the UK FCDO, the Resilient Water Accelerator, and the Water Tracker for Climate Planning. The reception brought together 70 senior decision makers and stimulated new collaboration to transform global water governance. We also held a showcase event with Signatories from the Government of Malawi, Sainsbury’s, Water Witness and Chatham House to highlight opportunities for fairer water use in global value chains.  

Generating new research and evidence

Throughout 2023, investigations into our unfair water footprints have been ongoing in Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, and Ethiopia, with a particular focus on agricultural commodities and the fresh fruit and vegetable sectors. The evidence generated from these investigations will serve as the bedrock for an upcoming Fair Water Footprints public advocacy campaign, to launch in Spring 2024.

The PMU partners will also be launching a series of ‘Action briefs’ focusing on how progressive supply chain management, investor activism and legal action by civil society and communities can drive Fair Water Footprints. The first in this series explores policy levers for importing countries and regions for Fair Water Footprints, using EU-Morocco and UK-Malawi trade as case studies. Signatories will be invited to attend a roundtable to discuss the findings on Wednesday 15 November.

We’re also pleased to learn that our Signatory, the Water Footprint Network has been commissioned by the World Bank to undertake a new and comprehensive assessment to guide our work and will be launching new water footprinting analyses in early 2024. They have also been successful in attracting research funding to help further define the parameters of a Fair Water Footprint.

CDP is working on the development of integrated cross-thematic questions for water, climate and forests that can address certain aspects of Fair Water Footprints.

Reaching new stakeholders

We continue to expand the reach and impact of Fair Water Footprints. In May, ANEW, WIN, Shahidi wa Maji, KEWASNET and Water Witness lead a successful Pan-Africa advocacy and research training event in Addis Ababa to support Fair Water Footprint investigations by media, community leaders, civil society, and academic partners. 35 participants from 13 nations shared knowledge and strategies, and identified case studies of concern and strategic support needs to strengthen our collective efforts across the continent.

In September, CDP brought together Planet Tracker, Water Witness and Financial Institutions for an event on transformative action on the water crisis. CDP brought the latest insights on disclosure, with case studies of action companies are taking. Planet Tracker spoke on the High and Dry Stranded Assets report and Water Witness presented on the Fair Water Footprints concept and case studies. Attendees included Baillie Gifford, M&G, Abrdn, and Franklin Templeton. We are also planning new research into the barriers and opportunities for Fair Water Footprints within global business operations together with Signatories Sainsbury’s, Diageo, and Unilever.

The need for Fair Water Footprints was shared with business stakeholders via an opinion piece in Business Green, the UK’s leading title for business leaders on sustainability and net zero. Water Witness is also working with Client Earth and Leigh Day to explore how to harness the law and legal tools to drive Fair Water Footprints.

Looking ahead

Discussions with several potential new Signatories are at an advanced stage and we look forward to announcing new countries coming on board in late 2023 or early 2024.

We are also in discussion with Sanitation and Water for All, the OECD, FAO and the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, and the partnership for Water Stewardship Collective Action led by WWF to explore closer collaboration for transformative change on water.


Our new Signatory WRAP are making important strides forward through their Water Roadmap work with UK food retailers and the Fair Water Footprints team are helping to shape action and new investment on the ground in Kenya, Peru and Morrocco