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WWF’s freshwater goals and priorities for Rio+20

WWF’s freshwater goals and priorities for Rio+20

Flavia Loures and Stuart Orr, WWF

Water is one of the seven listed priority areas at Rio+20 and plays an integral part in the goals and themes of the Conference. The reasons for that are numerous. In the late 20th Century, the Yellow River, the Murray-Darling and countless others have run dry. The Aral Sea has all but disappeared, and Lake Chad could be next. As we exceed the limits of aquatic ecosystems, freshwater biodiversity is declining and, with it, vital ecological functions and services. The resulting socioeconomic and environmental impacts have been profound.

In this context, WWF is urging leaders at Rio+20 to deliver a clear political mandate for the design of the future post-2015 development framework, in coordination with the the existing post-MDG review process. WWF considers Rio+20 an appropriate and timely platform to launch an expert-led process for proposing fully-funded and universally applicable Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their respective targets, timelines and indicators. Taking a step further, governments at Rio+20 should agree on key thematic areas for the SDGs, including water, food and energy security. In particular, WWF emphasises the ambitious goal of achieving considerable progress in those areas by 2030, which can most meaningfully occur by taking into account the nexus between water, food and energy.

WWF’s proposal for a future freshwater SDG stems from the recognition that well-managed, climate-resilient rivers, lakes, wetlands and aquifers – the sources of our water – provide the necessary foundation to meet the challenge of securing water, food and energy for all. In this sense, a freshwater SDG should focus on the maintenance and/or restoration of environmental flows and the ecological functions and services that rely on them, such as flood control and food provision, to the benefit of nature, people and economies. Such a goal should also call for greater consistency and coherence in decision- and policy-making for water, food and energy, with development and climate change considerations cutting across all those sectors. A third element of the proposed Goal would relate to universal, affordable and equitable access to safe water and improved sanitation, supported by the vital ecosystems that store, transport and purify water.

The fulfillment of WWF’s proposed freshwater SDG would depend on concerted action by all stakeholders, taking into account our top freshwater messages for Rio+20.

The availability of freshwater lies at the core of food and energy security: Over the next decade, demand for thirsty food crops and energy alternatives directly reliant on freshwater will increase massively. Solving the food-water-energy equation is thus an urgent global priority.
We urge countries to establish and implement water management and allocation frameworks that prioritise the maintenance of sustainable flow regimes, along with water for basic human needs: Progressive legal instruments form the basis for environmentally sustainable, socially equitable and economically efficient outcomes. It is critical to empower institutions that effectively inform, guide, implement, and enforce such frameworks, and monitor results in a changing climate.
As we approach the end of the International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ 2005-2015, and start preparing for 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation, we call on countries to ratify and implement the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC): In the world’s 276 transboundary watersheds, the water management challenge is compounded, and it is vital that states work together towards the sustainable management of those resources.
Properly valuing natural infrastructure is central to sound water management: Freshwater ecosystems provide infrastructure for free. Investment in water storage and hydropower should thus include a blend of properly valued natural infrastructure and wiser dam sites, design and operation, based on the applicable laws, regulations, policies, treaties dealing with transboundary waters and standards of good practice (e.g., the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol).
Development and poverty alleviation strategies, and relevant government and business decisions must consider coherent information and coordinated policy options across the agricultural, trade, energy, climate, and water sectors: Trade-offs between water for food, energy, the environment and domestic needs may be inevitable. Yet, energy solutions and climate change mitigation strategies should, at the least, not jeopardise or undermine efforts towards water and food security.
We encourage leaders and all stakeholders to consider our messages at Rio+20 and put them into practice, towards the ultimate goal of achieving universal access to water and sanitation for all by 2030, sustained by healthy and resilient freshwater and related ecosystems.

Contact: Flavia Loures (; Stuart Orr (