5 reasons to smile on World Wetlands Day…despite the scary statistics

Feb 2 · 7 min read

By Dean Muruven, WWF Global Freshwater Policy Manager

Irrawaddy dolphin in the free flowing Irrawaddy river © Nick Cox, WWF Myanmar

It’s that time of the year again — when the world’s wetlands get their one day in the sun. The annual opportunity for #WorldWetlandsDay stories about how rapidly wetlands and wetland biodiversity are disappearing despite the fact they are our life support systems. And about the urgent need for action.

Reading these stories, most people are likely to be left with a host of different emotions, ranging from anxiety to despair and perhaps even anger or helplessness — all of which are completely understandable given the shocking statistics and complexity of the challenge. Of course, raising awareness and calling for increased efforts to protect our wetlands is critical, but few of them offer much real cause for cheer.

And we desperately need something positive to cling to right now. The deadly coronavirus has killed hundreds, Brexit day has finally arrived, fires are still raging in Australia and wetlands really are being lost — dammed, drained and unsustainably developed — three times faster than forests.

So, for this World Wetlands Day we thought we would share five reasons to be hopeful because all is not lost. There are glimmers of hope out there, we just need to look hard enough.

The Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland © Andre Dib / WWF-Brazil

1. We are exploring new ways to save our wetlands

Now almost three months old, the €160 million Dutch Fund for Climate and Development (DFCD) enables private sector investment in projects aimed at climate adaptation and mitigation in developing countries.

If you speak to any sustainable finance expert, they will tell you there is no shortage of money for adaptation and resilience projects, they simply do not have a pipeline of bankable projects. So what sets DFCD apart? Well, two NGOs are responsible for the origination of projects, WWF and SNV. They will apply a landscape approach to ensure the needs of an entire landscape are considered and source projects that have a positive impact on the environment. The DFCD origination facility will also provide grant funding and technical assistance for eligible projects. Helping these projects reach bankability is typically an activity nobody wants to fund so having a dedicated facility to do this is a major step towards using the millions to access the billions of funding out there. Having a conservation organization and social development NGO source projects means that you can be certain that wetland ecosystems, their biodiversity and the people that depend on them will derive substantial benefit from DFCD.

2. The scientists have given us a plan

We have lost 83% of our freshwater species populations since 1970 which means we have to act now. But we can’t act without a plan. Don’t despair! Remember this is a blog about hope. We now have a plan! Over 20 of the world’s leading freshwater experts have come together to develop an Emergency Recovery Plan to “bend the curve” of freshwater biodiversity loss. Priority actions include:

· Accelerating implementation of environmental flows;
· Improving water quality;
· Protecting and restoring critical habitats;
· Managing exploitation of freshwater ecosystem resources, especially species and riverine aggregates;
· Preventing and controlling non-native species invasions; and
· Safeguarding and restoring river connectivity.

Why does this matter? Governments will come together in October to negotiate a new global biodiversity framework and the Emergency Recovery Plan gives them concrete actions that they can put in place to reverse the current trend. You might think that having a plan to address the crisis is a basic requirement, not so. Too often discussions around environmental issues focus primarily on ambition as opposed to action. Ambition is important but we are at a stage in our development where actions will speak much louder than words and that’s why the recovery plan matters.

Yellow-billed storks on the free flowing Luangwa river © James Suter / Black Bean Productions / WWF-US

3. Businesses are thinking about biodiversity

Last week Danone, the French Water Partnership, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and WWF hosted a high-level panel discussion in Paris as part of the World Wetlands Day activities. Emmanuel Faber, Danone’s CEO, wrapped up the event, speaking inspiringly about Aichi targets, the CBD CoP in Kunming, the EU Green Deal and the global biodiversity framework. If at this point you are wondering what all that means, well in nutshell you had a CEO of multinational company demonstrating that he was not only well-versed but also passionately concerned about on all the policy discussions pertaining to the global biodiversity agenda.

How business engage with the biodiversity agenda is not straightforward, but five years ago it would have been difficult to find a Head of Sustainability of a large corporate engaging meaningfully on the biodiversity agenda, let alone a CEO. And now the leaders of Danone and 18 other multinationals have signed up to the One Planet: Business for Biodiversity initiative to protect and restore biodiversity within their supply chains and product portfolios. These aren’t small players either: these 19 companies sell products in more than 120 countries and have combined total revenues of US$500 billion.

The critics are likely to say that this is not enough. And it’s true that an exponential increase in business engagement and transformation is needed to address the climate and biodiversity crises. But it is sometimes worth stepping back and appreciating a significant victory on what is an arduous journey.

Emmanuel Faber, CEO Danone, giving closing remarks at World Wetlands Day event in Paris © Richard Lee

4. Wetlands are helping save one of the most iconic freshwater species

The government of India has just declared the Beas River a wetland of international importance under thre Ramsar Convention. That’s a very big deal if you are one of the very few Indus River Dolphins in the Beas. Indeed, it’s estimated that only 11 dolphins still exist in this unique habitat. But as this story is all about hope, the latest survey found calves, indicating that the dolphins are still breeding and that the river is suitable for these amazing mammals to thrive. Granting Beas River internationally protected status signals the intent by the Indian government to ensure this species survives and who knows, maybe this will inspire other countries in Asia and Latin America that have endangered dolphin populations to come together and take ambitious new steps — like getting their Heads of State to sign a global Dolphin Declaration to conserve one of our most iconic freshwater species.

5. Africa is being bold!

Our final stop on this journey of hope is Africa or more precisely, Uganda, where the government has just made a pretty big statement. The Ministry of Water and Environment has decided to cancel all title deeds that were issued in wetlands after the year 1995, amounting to around 3000 titles. Meanwhile, the government and partners have also restored 5,000 hectares of wetlands in different parts of the country and plan to increase the national wetland coverage to 12% by 2040! Minister Cheptoris said it best, “You are part of the solution and cannot afford to sit back. I urge you to be part and parcel of this effort because if we do not manage wetlands judiciously the future is not certain for the coming generations.”

We live in a world where you can be forgiven for a feeling a sense of despair but this World Wetlands Day take a moment to celebrate it, ignore the stats for a brief moment and celebrate the positive progress that has been made.

We’ve managed to find five real reasons for hope. Whether you are on the frontline of the fight against climate change in the most vulnerable places on the planet or a community trying to save your local river or an NGO working to restore a wetland or a champion within a business trying to make the case for biodiversity, take a moment to look at how far we’ve come and what we’ve achieved collectively and celebrate that. Use it to replenish your levels of optimism and hope, because we are going to need a lot more hopeful and optimistic people on the journey ahead.

One of Africa’s most famous sons says it best. “Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.” Nelson Mandela.

Happy World Wetlands Day!

40% of the world’s species depend on wetlands © Tomas Hulik


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Building a #future in which #humans live in harmony with #nature.

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