A coalition of governments today launched the Freshwater Challenge, the largest initiative ever undertaken to restore degraded rivers, lakes and wetlands, which are critical to addressing the worsening global water, climate and nature crisis. The initiative is led by Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Gabon, Mexico and Zambia.
Announced at the Water Conference taking place at UN headquarters in New York, the Challenge aims to restore 300,000 km of rivers, the equivalent of more than seven times around the Earth, and 350 million hectares of wetlands, an area larger than India, by 2030.
One-third of the world’s wetlands have been lost in the last 50 years, and their destruction is still faster than that of forests. Rivers and lakes are the most degraded ecosystems in the world, with fish stocks teetering on the brink, which in turn threatens the food security of communities.
“The clearest sign of the damage we have done, and continue to do, to our rivers, lakes and wetlands is the collapse of 83% of freshwater species populations since 1970. The Freshwater Challenge sets the right targets and frameworks to reverse this trend, to the benefit not only of nature, but also of people around the world,” said Stuart Orr, WWF International’s freshwater manager.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report, released this week, highlights the severe impacts of climate change on freshwater ecosystems and underscores the need to protect and restore them to improve adaptation and build resilient societies, economies and ecosystems.
The Freshwater Challenge urges all governments to commit to clear targets in their national biodiversity strategies and Sustainable Development Goal implementation plans to urgently restore freshwater ecosystems.
The Challenge will contribute to the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, a campaign that recognizes pioneering initiatives worldwide that aim to restore the environment.
The initiative also takes into account the Global Framework for Biodiversity agreed in Montreal in December 2022, which included the restoration of 30% of the world’s degraded “inland waters”.