UN Water Conference drives real momentum on water and freshwater ecosystems, says WWF

By Mohammad Hossain & From UN Headquarters
Published Sat, Mar 25, 2023 9:18 AM

New York, March 24 - The first UN Water Conference in 46 years is ending with an impressive array of commitments from governments, companies, and civil society in the Water Action Agenda - highlighting the urgent need for action on water and freshwater ecosystems. However, the commitments are not binding, so what did this once-in-a-generation summit achieve? 

Stuart Orr, WWF Global Freshwater Lead, said:

“We need radical, transformational action on the water to tackle the world’s worsening water, nature, and climate crises, but there has never been the necessary momentum for change - until now. This conference has finally swept water to the top of the global agenda, flooding the halls of the UN with calls for action and waking the world up to the central role of water and freshwater ecosystems in driving sustainable development. 

We cannot meet the most basic needs of future generations without safe water.  And we cannot provide resilient water without restoring nature.  Now is the time to solve the crises of our generation together, all at once.  We need to stop ignoring the devastating loss of wildlife and start restoring rivers and wetlands.    

The range of commitments does give us cause for optimism. There has never been such a collective commitment to change, such a groundswell of support for a new approach to water and to scaling up investment in healthy rivers, lakes, and wetlands - although business needs to do much more collectively, and the financial world must invest more in initiatives that work with nature.

This conference has shown the world that it is possible to finally come together and commit to reversing decades of failure on water and the ongoing destruction of our freshwater ecosystems. Yesterday, for example, countries launched the Freshwater Challenge - the largest ever river and freshwater restoration initiative in history, putting us on track to restore 300,000km of rivers and 350,000 hectares of wetlands. Avaaz delivered a petition here signed by more than 560,000 people demanding governments fix rivers.  

But commitments today are worthless if they don’t translate into real action tomorrow. And it needs to be tomorrow, not next month or year.  Governments and companies need to stand up in six months' time at the World Water Week in Stockholm and in a year’s time on World Water Day 2024 and prove that they have turned their pledges and promises into practice - that this was not just a blue-washing, talking shop.

Water needs to remain at the top of the global agenda - not just in regular international water summits but at the heart of the G7, G20, Climate, and Nature COPs, and conferences on food, energy, business, finance, and peace and security because this conference has shown that water is at the heart of everything, everywhere. 

We believe that the pressure for action is now more substantial than it has ever been and that people could look back at this event and say that was when the tide turned. And if it turns for water, the wave will also ride for global efforts to tackle climate and nature crises, and finally, give future generations a fighting chance."