Colombia champions call for Freshwater Challenge

Posted on December, 19 2022

Coalition of countries and organizations demands action to protect and restore inland waters
Supported by WWF and other organizations, the Colombian government and a coalition of other nations launched the 'Freshwater Challenge', an initiative to prioritize the protection and restoration of inland waters - the world's rivers, lakes, and freshwater wetlands.

Within the framework of the COP15 on biodiversity, currently taking place in Montreal, a Special High Level Event was held in the Colombia pavilion. Entitled 'Freshwater ecosystems and their role in achieving the objectives of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework', the event attracted the participation of ministers and deputy ministers of the environment from a diversity of nations, including Colombia, Congo, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Mongolia and the Netherlands, as well as leaders and senior officials from the GEF, WWF and Ramsar Secretariat.

Launched during the event, the 'Challenge' seeks to elevate freshwater ecosystems to the same level as "land and sea" so that they are no longer a footnote but the core of biodiversity goals and targets. The call is for the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to clearly incorporate their protection, restoration, and sustainable use, and for this to be replicated in future National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans.

The call is also for a global effort under the Ecosystem Restoration Decade, to be launched at the UN Water Summit in March 2023 to restore 300,000 km of rivers and 350 million hectares of inland waters by 2030, to reverse the loss of nature, safeguard the delivery of critical resources in ecosystem services and strengthen climate resilience.

During the event, Sandra Valenzuela, Director of WWF Colombia, commented: "We call for global action in terms of the protection and restoration of freshwater ecosystems, as well as their inclusion for our communities. We recognize the commitment of the Government of Colombia and the other attendees to join in a joint action to protect our inland waters".

Susana Muhamad, Colombia's Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, said: "For a long time, in the name of development, we forgot that our country and our culture were amphibious. And we decided, with a lack of awareness, to build on top of continental water bodies, to bring water from our mountains to our  cities through aqueduct systems and to have economic and territorial conflicts between huge industrial crops and the continental water bodies in their midst."

Muhamad added: "Healthy rivers, lakes and wetlands are central to efforts to combat climate change and the nature crisis, to drive sustainable development and to promote local economies for the well-being of communities. We must begin to value water and freshwater ecosystems. We must allow water to do one thing: flow naturally. We have to promote a regenerative, social and inclusive economy, benefiting both local communities and natural wetlands."

"Today, from Colombia, we want to invite countries to join the 'Freshwater Challenge', a call to action to prioritize the protection and restoration of inland waters, and to clearly incorporate the protection, restoration and sustainable use of inland waters, and for this to be replicated in future National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans."

Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, director of the Global Environmental Facility, said: "We have lost 39 percent of the biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems that we knew, of what we have been scientifically able to classify. By now, we have probably lost about 50 percent of freshwater species, including plants, vertebrates, and invertebrates. Species that we didn't even know existed."

Christianne van del Wal-Zeggelink, The Netherland's Minister for Nature and Nitrogen Policy, said, "This COP reaffirms the importance of biodiversity conservation. Inland waters are particularly important biodiversity hotspots and are crucial to the lives of millions of people. They arguably play a triple role: for people, in terms of food and nutrition; as water supply and storage for nature, agriculture and the economy; and for the climate, as carbon sinks."
Bita River in Colombia
© Jorge Garcia
Freshwater Challenge event at Colombia pavilion at COP15
© WWF Colombia
Amazon river dolphin (Sotalia fluviatilis)
© Fernando Trujillo / Fundación Omacjha