Freshwater Conservation Programme - Phase II

Geographical location:

Latin America/Caribbean > South America > Brazil


Freshwater systems are experiencing the fastest rate of destruction of all the biomes in the world. This is a combined result of poor management, over extraction and inefficient and unsustainable use of water.

Climate change is increasingly exacerbating this situation leading to increased flooding and run-off, drought and salinisation in estuaries and coasts (due to sea level rise). This poses real threats, not just to the natural world, but to the hundreds of millions of people who rely on water resources in these high risk areas.

In partnership with HSBC, WWF will work to reduce the level of climate change and build the resilience of natural systems.


WWF is the only international organisation with the technical and communications capacity and global network to tackle and reduce the impact of climate change on freshwater and biodiversity loss at local, national and international scales.

Two clear strategies have been identified: building the resilience of river basins to climate change; and tackling the root causes of climate change.

1. River basin resilience

- Basin vulnerability assessment: conserving natural resources is vital to social and economical development. There is now scientific consensus that climate change is already having an adverse impact on natural systems. Aquatic ecosystems will first be affected by water quality and quantity changes.

In addition, the intense use of land generates big (and as yet unknown) impacts on water resources. Decision makers in Brazil need knowledge and mechanisms to help define adaptation plans to mitigate deforestation and climate change effects. This impacts on the conservation of water systems and the different uses of water (domestic supply, agriculture, energy, etc). Equipped with the necessary knowledge, governments will be better equipped to anticipate severe impacts on aquatic systems, which could affect public health and the economy as a whole.

- Improved agriculture and water allocation / valuation: biofuels has recently been added to the Brazilian government's agenda, due to the enormous existing potential for the development of this renewable energy source. In addition to economic advantages, biofuels bring benefits associated with the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other atmospheric pollutants, and the reduction of fossil fuels use. Nevertheless, it is necessary to better identify the opportunities and impacts of biofuel business expansion on soil conversion and economy.

- Sustainable river flows: the quality, quantity and distribution of water required for any aquatic ecosystem will depend on the environmental objectives set for that system. Freshwater ecosystems are sensitive not only to water temperature, volume and flow, but also to variability in these factors. Rivers, lakes and wetlands are expected to display a wide variety of changes in response to climate change.

2. Climate Change Mitigation

- Hydropower: the promotion of economic growth, job generation and reduction of poverty all depend on the availability of energy. In Brazil, the main sources of energy are the hydroelectric plants. Although considered as clean energy producers, the hydroelectric plants also induce social, environmental and even significant economical impacts. Less than 40% of the hydroelectric potential of Brazil is being used, which demonstrates the expansion capacity for this kind of energy production.

At Tocantins Basin (10% of Brazilian territory), there is clear progress, but a considerable part of the national energy infrastructure is over 40 years old. This reduces energy efficiency at generation, production and delivery. Therefore, WWF proposes increasing the energy efficiency of existing dams and reducing the impacts of plants to be constructed.

- Forest conversion and low CO2 business opportunities (e.g. Gold Standard): highly industrialized nations are responsible for most GHG emissions. However, Brazil is in 4th place, largely because of deforestation - reducing the amount of CO2 which is reabsorbed - and forest fires - which provoke GHG emissions. These factors are responsible for 75% of GHG emissions. Transport is responsible for 15% and electricity production for just 5%. Creating mechanisms to reduce deforestation is essential to reduce Brazil's GHGs and, at the same time, conserve biodiversity and aquatic ecosystems.

- ‘Save Forest, Save Water, Save Life’ campaign: the Brazilian population must be made aware of the threats of climate change on water and must be proactive in putting pressure on authorities to take preventive action.

- Millennium Development Goals - sanitation: Currently 40 million Brazilians have no access to quality water in their homes and 70% of hospital admissions are related to water diseases, which kill thousands of children every year. This scenario will be dramatically worsened in case of natural disasters caused by climate change over already precarious sanitation installations in Brazil.


- Basin vulnerability assessment (2008): the vulnerability of water availability, as related to climate change, will be mapped and identified.

- Basin governance, planning and policy (2012): public policies and the National Water Plan incorporate measures for river basin climate change related resilience. They also incorporate institutional basis for water conservation in the Amazon (which holds 10% of the world's freshwater).

- Sustainable river flows (2010): WWF Brazil contributes strategies to inform water management public policies, and the design and management of reserves that will allow freshwater ecosystem to withstand and/or adapt to climate change.

- Improved agriculture and water allocation/valuation (2010): governments develop alternative energy sources such as biofuels to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This should include mechanisms to reduce any negative impacts of these alternatives on soil and water.

- Hydropower (2012): the federal government increases investments in the National Plan for Energy Efficiency, reducing the pressure for new dams, whilst adopting strong and effective measures to protect river basins when building up new hydroelectric plants.

- Forest conversion and low CO2 (e.g. Gold Standard) business opportunities (2012): a financial tool is created to reduce deforestation in Brazil whilst control measures and alternatives for sustainable management are improved by the federal government.

- Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - sanitation (2011): 3 strategic sanitation companies in Brasilia DF, Sao Paulo and Amazon take action to protect catchments, promote water access and inform population about climate and water issues, contributing to achieve the United Nations (UN) MDGs.

- 'Save Forest, Save Water, Save Life' campaign (2012): 11 million Brazilians are informed about the threats of climate change and their impacts over water.


Basin vulnerability assessment: evaluating the impacts of climate change, including weather extreme events, as related to water availability within priority river basins and big cities, and providing decision takers and authorities with information on risks and alternatives.

Basin governance, planning and policy:
> Insert and adapt public policies to freshwater and its vulnerability to climate change.
> Strengthen governance on water management through the National Water Plan.
> Contribute to create an institutional basis for water management in the Amazon.
> Develop and implement financing mechanisms that harmonize good productive practices with conservation of natural resources, through Payment for Environmental Services.
> Demonstrate, through field projects, mechanisms and resilience achieved by the actions above.

Sustainable river flows:
> Create mechanisms that assure the functioning of the aquatic ecosystems on priority hydrographic basins.
> Contribute with the National Water Agency (Agencia Nacional de Aguas - ANA) and the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) to acquire knowledge and expertise on sustainable river flows.
> Model infrastructure project impacts over priority basins.

Improved agriculture and water allocation / valuation:
> Analyze opportunities and risks of the development and expansion of crops for biofuels.
> Influence agriculture and cattle breeding financing institutions to adopt social and environmental criteria to foment sustainable business.
> Influence Ministries of Agriculture, Environment and Energy to encourage and/or enforce the use of sustainable practices on agriculture for biofuels, identifying where such activities may increase in Brazil.
> Undertake studies on the return of cleared land to agricultural production (sugar, soy, etc).

> Influence over the National Energy Plan so as to increase financial resources and goals for energy efficiency.
> Model the impact of dams over the aquatic ecosystems in priority basins.
> Influence the electric sector so as to incorporate the World Dams Council's recommendations for building dams.
> Influence Ministries of Environment, Energy, National Water Resources Council and National Water Agency to enforce the use of river basin protection when constructing hydroelectric plants.

Forest conversion and low CO2 business opportunities (e.g. Gold Standard):
> Create mechanisms to reduce deforestation and GHG emissions in the Amazon by encouraging sustainable business with forest resources.
> Improve accountability of the National Deforestation Combat Plan of the federal government so as to identify constraints to its implementation and propose solutions.
> Act with financing institutions to encourage the adoption of sustainable credit lines and Environmental Licensing System for Rural Properties as a pre-condition for loans.

‘Save Forest, Save Water, Save Life’ campaign:
> Promote a wide mobilization and information campaign on how climate change will affect water resources and Brazilians’ lives.
> Train and mobilize media professionals to disseminate the campaign’s message.
> Support resilience programmes on climate change effects on river basins.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - sanitation:
> Influence sanitation companies so as to promote resilience to the effects of climate change by recovering and protecting water catchments.
> Pressure water companies and governments to promote access to clean water according to the objectives established in the United Nations MDGs, based on the Water and Sanitation for Urban Poor (WSUP) programme.

Connection with sustainable business with HSBC Brazil:
> Work with the bank’s business groups in the Corporate and Investment Banking Markets (CIBM), Local Large Companies (LLC) and Middle Marketing Enterprises (MME) that have an impact on climate change, soil conversion, and water degradation, as well as a list of all legal and economic aspects.
> Hold an annual on-site event with the bank’s business group involving executive directors in order to identify risks and opportunities of sustainable business.
> Develop a quarterly newsletter for the bank’s executives and employees reporting on an update of the outcomes.
> Hold 2 events within 5 years with the bank’s clients at the 3 primary markets of HSBC Brazil (South, Southeast and Mid-North/Agribusiness).

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required