More than 30 countries take on the Freshwater Challenge to collectively restore freshwater ecosystems

Freshwater challenge

In recent years, the pace of global efforts to curb climate change has been increasing. One of the initiatives in this direction is the Freshwater Challenge, which is the largest challenge of its kind in the world and in history. Its goal is to ensure the restoration of 300,000. km of degraded rivers and 350 million hectares of destroyed wetlands, which is expected by 2030. The program also aims to protect freshwater ecosystems.

Freshwater Challenge initiation – how did it start?

The Freshwater Challenge concept was unveiled in March 2023. In New York at the UN water conference. Six countries came up with the initiative: Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Gabon, Mexico and Zambia. At this year’s COP28 climate summit In Dubai, more countries have been revealed to join the challenge. These include countries from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America and the Pacific Rim. The involvement of more than 30 countries from so many areas makes the Freshwater Challenge a global initiative. Member countries hold more than 30 percent of the world’s renewable freshwater resources, so their impact on curbing global climate change could be enormous. New Freshwater Challenge members include: USA, UK, Germany, France, Norway, Spain, Iraq, Kenya, Senegal, Nepal, Niger, Pakistan, Peru.

What are the goals of the Freshwater Challenge?

The Freshwater Challenge aims to protect freshwater resources. The main demands of the initiative are to support, integrate and accelerate the restoration of 300,000. km of degraded rivers and 350 million hectares of damaged wetlands. The premise of the challenge is also to protect rivers, lakes and other freshwater bodies and prevent their degradation. Integration of the initiative’s activities with already existing national strategies is assumed. The Freshwater Challenge is thus intended to help meet the demands of national and international plans related to combating climate change, protecting ecosystems and biodiversity, and sustainable economic development towards a climate-neutral economy. Completion of the initiative’s activities is scheduled for 2030.

Why is it important to protect freshwater ecosystems?

A third of the world’s wetlands have disappeared in the last 50 years. The rate of wetland loss is even faster than the disappearance of forests, and rivers and lakes are the most degraded ecosystems on the planet. The good health of freshwater ecosystems is crucial to mitigating climate change. Swampy areas, in which peat accumulates, are responsible for absorbing huge amounts of carbon dioxide. One hectare of peatland can absorb from several hundred kilograms to two tons of carbon per year. Wetlands are water storage areas, protecting against both flood and drought effects.

Implementing the Freshwater Challenge

The initiative is to be implemented at the national level. By design, it is intended to combine the demands of the Freshwater Challenge with already existing strategies to combat climate change, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as national and EU plans. In implementing the Freshwater Challenge, the cooperation of governments, their partners, communities and the private sector that would be affected by the changes is to be key. Member countries can also apply for support from the initiative’s partners. This can be to help coordinate investments, supplement necessary knowledge or mobilize needed resources. Funding for the initiative is expected to come from the funds of already existing projects.

Freshwater Challenge hopes

The implementation of the Freshwater Challenge is not only an initiative aimed at combating climate change. It is also another step toward implementing an environmentally positive economy, sustainable development, and shaping water, food and energy security. Healthy freshwater ecosystems are also key to maintaining social stability related to people’s access to water. Currently, 2.3 billion people live in water-scarce countries, and 4 billion – half of the world’s population – experience severe water scarcity for at least one month a year.

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