The United Nations Environment Programme announced that a coalition of governments have launched the Freshwater Challenge — the largest ever initiative to restore degraded rivers, lakes and wetlands.
Announced at the UN Water Conference in New York, the Freshwater Challenge aims to restore 300,000 km of rivers and 350 million hectares of wetlands by 2030.
Championed by the governments of Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Gabon, Mexico and Zambia, the Freshwater Challenge calls on all governments to commit to clear targets in their updated National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans, National Determined Contributions and National Implementation Plan for the SDGs to urgently restore healthy freshwater ecosystems.
"This initiative is in line with the priorities of the National Development Plan 2022-2026, which will allow the country to strengthen Territorial Planning around Water by protecting all water systems from a perspective of water as a common resource and fundamental right,” said Susana Muhamad, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Colombia. “This implies the participation of communities to resolve socio-environmental conflicts, respecting cultural diversity and guaranteeing the conservation of biodiversity".
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.
Building on the Global Biodiversity Framework agreed in Montreal in December 2022, which included the restoration of 30% of the world’s degraded ‘inland waters’, the Challenge will contribute to the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The UN Decade is a drive to revive the planet, co-led by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“The clearest sign of the damage we have done - and are still doing - to our rivers, lakes and wetlands is the staggering 83% collapse in freshwater species populations since 1970,” said Stuart Orr, Freshwater Lead at WWF International. “The Freshwater Challenge puts the right goals and frameworks in place to turn this around - benefiting not only nature but also people across the world. We need governments and partners to commit to this urgently as part of the Water Action Agenda coming out of this UN conference.”