In a major boost to global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, 37 countries yesterday signed up to the Freshwater Challenge, the world’s largest initiative to restore degraded rivers, wetlands and aquifers and protect vital aquatic ecosystems.
At a high-level event organised by the COP28 Presidency and attended by 15 ministers, 37 countries were announced to have signed up. This initiative was born in March 2023 at the United Nations Water Conference in New York and was led by Colombia, DR Congo, Ecuador, Gabon, Mexico and Zambia.
The aim of the Water Challenge is to restore 300,000 km of rivers and 350 million hectares of degraded wetlands by 2030, and to protect aquatic ecosystems. New signatories include Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Canada, Chad, Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Fiji, France, Finland, Gabon, Germany, Iraq, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Peru, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Slovenia, Spain, Tajikistan, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uganda, USA and Zimbabwe. These countries are home to more than 30% of the world’s renewable water resources and are home to more than 1.5 billion people.
This initiative seeks to reverse the continuing degradation of these ecosystems over the past decades. One third of the world’s wetlands have been lost in the last 50 years, and they are deteriorating faster than forests.
“Preserving healthy wetlands, rivers and aquifers is our best buffer and guarantee against the worsening effects of climate change. Investing in their protection and restoration will yield great benefits, including strengthening climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction, increased water and food security. It will also contribute to reversing the alarming decline in aquatic biodiversity. We need to find new ways to address this urgently,” says Stuart Orr, head of WWF International’s Water programme.
The Water Challenge will also focus on providing the evidence needed at the national level to effectively design and implement restoration measures, identify priority areas for restoration, update relevant national strategies and plans, and mobilise resources and establish financial mechanisms to implement the targets.
Led by a coalition of countries, the Water Challenge is supported by Conservation International, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands, The Nature Conservancy, Wetlands International, OECD, UNEP (under the auspices of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration) and WWF.
The Challenge is a country-driven initiative with an inclusive and collaborative approach to implementation, in which governments and their partners will co-create solutions for aquatic ecosystems with indigenous peoples, local communities and other stakeholders, including the private sector.