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Global momentum for climate action surges as 38 nations embrace the Freshwater Challenge

  • Global momentum for climate action surges as 38 nations embrace the Freshwater Challenge
  • The Freshwater Challenge aims to ensure 300,000km of degraded rivers and 350 million hectares of degraded wetlands are committed to restoration by 2030, and to protect freshwater ecosystems.

About the entity

The world’s leading conservation organization, WWF works in 100 countries and is supported by more than one million members in the United States and close to five million globally.

In a major boost to global efforts to mitigate climate change and adapt its worsening impacts on societies and economies, 37 countries joined the Freshwater Challenge - the world’s largest initiative to restore degraded rivers, lakes and wetlands and to protect vital freshwater ecosystems.

The countries from Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and the Pacific were unveiled at a high level event with 15 Ministers hosted by the COP28 Presidency. They joined the six countries that launched the initiative at the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York - Colombia, DR Congo, Ecuador, Gabon, Mexico and Zambia.

The champions and new members - including Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Canada, Chad, Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Fiji, France, Finland, Gambia, Germany, Iraq, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Slovenia, Spain, Tajikistan, Tanzania, UAE, Uganda, UK, USA and Zimbabwe - contain over 30% of the world’s renewable freshwater resources and are home to almost 2 billion people.

The Freshwater Challenge aims to ensure 300,000km of degraded rivers - equivalent to more than seven times around the Earth - and 350 million hectares of degraded wetlands, an area larger than India, are committed to restoration by 2030, as well as conserve intact ecosystems.

Healthy freshwater ecosystems are critical to mitigating and adapting to climate change. They are seen as the foundation for a water resilient future. Peatlands are the world’s largest terrestrial carbon store, while river sediment deposited on the sea floor can also sequester large quantities of carbon. Connected floodplains and healthy wetlands can reduce the impact of extreme floods and build resilience to ever increasing droughts.

The Freshwater Challenge aims to ensure 300,000km of degraded rivers - equivalent to more than seven times around the Earth

Thriving mangroves - most of which depend on sediment flow from rivers to survive - help protect coastal communities from storm surges. Densely-populated and agriculturally-rich deltas also rely on the flow of water, nutrients and sediments down rivers to limit salt water intrusion, remain fertile, and stay above the rising seas.

Yet one-third of the world’s wetlands have been lost over the past 50 years, and we are still losing them faster than forests. Rivers and lakes are the most degraded ecosystems in the world and climate change is now exacerbating the already unprecedented threats.

HE Razan Al Mubarak, UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP28 said, "With the climate crisis fuelling ever more extreme floods, storms, wildfires and droughts, we urgently need to invest in protecting and restoring our rivers, lakes and wetlands. They are the best natural protection for our societies and economies as well as major carbon stores. Rising to the Freshwater Challenge is key to tackling climate change, but it is also essential to pave the way to a net-zero, nature-positive and resilient future for all.”

Along with accelerating climate action, restoring and protecting healthy freshwater ecosystems will also boost water, food and energy security, enhance peace and stability, reverse nature loss and drive sustainable development.

H.E. Collins Nzovu, Minister of Green Economy and Environment, Zambia said: “The climate crisis is a water crisis. Across the globe, we are witnessing its devastating impacts on our societies and economies - from increasing water scarcity to more extreme floods, droughts and storms, from changing river flows to melting glaciers and rising seas. And these impacts will only get worse: unless we rise to the Freshwater Challenge. So we urge all countries to join us in the Freshwater Challenge. Together, we can reverse the loss and degradation of our rivers, lakes and wetlands - and drastically enhance global efforts to tackle the climate crisis.”

The Freshwater Challenge is a country-driven initiative with an inclusive, collaborative approach to implementation, where governments and their partners will co-create freshwater solutions with indigenous people, local communities, and other stakeholders, including the private sector. During the COP28 event, AB InBev, BCG and IKEA all expressed their support for the Freshwater Challenge.

The Freshwater Challenge calls on all governments to commit to clear targets in their updated National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans, National Determined Contributions, National Adaptation Plans, and National Implementation Plan for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to drastically scale up efforts to protect and restore healthy freshwater ecosystems. It builds on the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which included the protection of 30% of the world’s ‘inland waters’ and the restoration of 30% of degraded ‘inland

Stuart Orr, WWF Global Freshwater Lead said, “Healthy rivers, lakes and wetlands are our best buffer and insurance against the worsening impacts of climate change. Investing in their protection and restoration will produce the most important returns: strengthening climate adaptation and reducing disaster risk as well as increasing water and food security, and reversing the catastrophic decline in freshwater biodiversity. But we need to find new pathways to address this urgently.”

The Freshwater Challenge will also focus on providing the evidence needed at country level to effectively design and implement restoration measures, identify priority areas for restoration, update relevant national strategies and plans, and mobilise resources and set up financial mechanisms to implement the targets.

Led by the coalition of countries, the Freshwater Challenge is supported by Conservation International, IUCN, the Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands, The Nature Conservancy, Wetlands International, OECD, UNEP (under the auspices of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration), and WWF.

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