WWF-Canada applauds federal government as it joins more than 30 countries in the world’s largest freshwater restoration and protection initiative at COP28


The Freshwater Challenge aims to protect freshwater ecosystems and ensure 300,000 km of degraded rivers and 350 million hectares of degraded wetlands are committed to restoration by 2030

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (10 December) – Sunday’s announcement that Canada and more than 30 other countries have joined the Freshwater Challenge will provide a much-needed boost to freshwater protection and restoration. It’s a major boost to global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change using nature-based climate solutions

The challenge is the world’s largest initiative to restore degraded rivers, lakes and wetlands, and to protect vital freshwater ecosystems. The announcements were made at the ministerial roundtable on protection and restoration of freshwater ecosystems at COP28.

Home to more than 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater reserves, including vast networks of rivers, lakes and wetlands, Canada’s leadership on freshwater protection and restoration is essential. WWF-Canada attended the roundtable in Dubai and applauds the government of Canada for its commitments.

Elizabeth Hendriks, Vice-president, Restoration & Regeneration, WWF-Canada said:

“People may be wondering why we’re talking about freshwater at a climate conference. But healthy and productive rivers, lakes, wetlands and peatlands are critical carbon stores that lessen the impacts of climate change-related extreme weather events. Freshwater ecosystems are currently the most degraded worldwide, and we must invest in their restoration. We thank the government of Canada for joining the Freshwater Challenge and look forward to working side by side in supporting freshwater protection and restoration in a meaningful way that will help us meet our climate and biodiversity targets.”


More details on the Freshwater Challenge

The initiative was launched at the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York with six participants — Colombia, DR Congo, Ecuador, Gabon, Mexico and Zambia. New countries from Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and the Pacific announced they were joining the challenge at a high-level event with 15 Ministers hosted by the COP28 Presidency.

The champions and new members — including Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Canada, Chad, Chile, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Fiji, France, Finland, Gambia, Germany, Iraq, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Slovenia, Spain, Tajikistan, Tanzania, UAE, Uganda, UK, USA and Zimbabwe — contain over 30 per cent of the world’s renewable freshwater resources and are home to almost 2 billion people.

The Freshwater Challenge aims to ensure 300,000 km of degraded rivers and 350 million hectares of degraded wetlands — an area larger than India — are committed to restoration by 2030, as well as conserve intact ecosystems.

Healthy freshwater ecosystems are critical to mitigating and adapting to climate change. They are seen as the foundation to a water resilient future. Peatlands are the world’s largest terrestrial carbon store, while river sediment deposited on the sea floor can also sequester large quantities of carbon. Connected floodplains and healthy wetlands can reduce the impact of extreme floods and build resilience to ever increasing droughts.

Thriving mangroves — most of which depend on sediment flow from rivers to survive — help protect coastal communities from storm surges. Densely populated and agriculturally rich deltas also rely on the flow of water, nutrients and sediments down rivers to limit salt-water intrusion, remain fertile, and stay above the rising seas.

Yet one-third of the world’s wetlands have been lost over the past 50 years, and we are still losing them faster than forests. Rivers and lakes are the most degraded ecosystems in the world and climate change is now exacerbating the already unprecedented threats.

The Freshwater Challenge is a country-driven initiative with an inclusive, collaborative approach to implementation, where governments and their partners will co-create freshwater solutions with Indigenous people, local communities, and other stakeholders, including the private sector. During the COP28 event, AB InBev, BCG and IKEA all expressed their support for the Freshwater Challenge.

The Freshwater Challenge calls on all governments to commit to clear targets in their updated National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans, National Determined Contributions, National Adaptation Plans, and National Implementation Plan for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to drastically scale up efforts to protect and restore healthy freshwater ecosystems. It builds on the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which included the protection of 30 per cent of the world’s “inland waters” and the restoration of 30 per cent of degraded “inland waters.”

The Freshwater Challenge will also focus on providing the evidence needed at country level to effectively design and implement restoration measures, identify priority areas for restoration, update relevant national strategies and plans, and mobilize resources and set up financial mechanisms to implement the targets.

Led by the coalition of participating countries, the Freshwater Challenge is supported by Conservation International, IUCN, the Secretariat of the Convention on Wetlands, The Nature Conservancy, Wetlands International, OECD, UNEP (under the auspices of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration), and WWF.


Notes for Editors

Restoration work example

Watch this video that highlights Indigenous-led freshwater restoration work by the Katzie First Nation in the Upper Pitt River. This is the type of work that is necessary to meet this commitment.

 Facts and figures

  • About four billion people, representing half of the global population, experience severe water scarcity at least one month of the year.
  • 2.3 billion people live in water-stressed countries.
  • Almost three-quarters of all recent natural disasters are water related, including floods, droughts and storms. These disasters have destroyed lives and livelihoods, impacted millions and caused US $700 billion in economic damage in the past 20 years.
  • By 2050:
    • five times as much land is likely to face “extreme drought”.
    • 5.7 billion people are likely to live in water scarce areas.
    • the number of people at risk from floods is projected to rise to around 1.6 billion

About WWF-Canada:

WWF-Canada is committed to equitable and effective conservation actions that restore nature, reverse wildlife loss and fight climate change. We draw on scientific analysis and Indigenous guidance to ensure all our efforts connect to a single goal: a future where wildlife, nature and people thrive.


For more information, please contact:

Rebecca Spring, Senior communications manager, WWF-Canada, [email protected]