The Policy & Practice of Climate Change & Water

Open Letter in “Science” Calls for Better Integrating Freshwater Conservation into Policy Objectives

A letter in Science, published today and co-authored by our own Ingrid Timboe, highlights an alarming statistic from the most recent Freshwater Living Planet Index (FLPI), published in the 2018 Living Planet Report (LPR) showing an 83% decline in monitored freshwater species. Most significantly, the rate of decline of freshwater species has risen with each report. Despite warnings from over a decade ago that the protection of freshwater biodiversity is “the ultimate conservation challenge” and “immediate action is needed,” conservation is evidently failing freshwater biodiversity and solutions must be found.

Additional research to form a better understanding of the species present in our freshwater ecosystems, and the ecological functions of these ecosystems is important. However, equally important as the need to do better science to fill the data gap is the need to do a better job at translating this science and data so that others can use them. It is essential that we engage policy makers and water managers at the local level in our research in order to better understand and represent the diverse needs of the communities living with freshwater biodiversity loss.

The conservation community has an essential job to play in providing guidance to land-managers and policy makers on how to integrate conservation management of inland waters into landscape decision-making. Linking the objectives of conservation of freshwater biodiversity to the objectives of socio-economic sustainable development will be extremely important in order for those biodiversity objectives to be implemented at national scales. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) form a framework for doing this and it is the role of the conservation community to ensure that freshwater objectives are measured and met as part of SDG targets.

However, conservation and management of freshwater resources often tends to become narrowly focused on the provision of human water security (e.g., the delivery of water, as a utility, in support of agriculture, industry, and domestic needs) rather than on the conservation of natural ecosystem integrity, despite the fact that the two are related. It is the role of the freshwater conservation community to ensure that future policy recommendations, such as CBD’s post-2020 targets, keep their sights on safeguarding freshwater biodiversity, and that this does not become a secondary consideration to human water security.

Most recently, a new initiative – the Alliance for Freshwater Life – was formed to unite specialists in research, data synthesis, conservation, education and outreach, and policymaking. The Alliance, which includes several of the co-authors of the letter to Science, aims to “ensure effective representation of freshwater biodiversity at policy meetings, to develop solutions balancing the needs of development and conservation, and to better convey the important role freshwater ecosystems play in human well‐being.” In so doing, the vision of the Alliance is to address the core problem, highlighted by the 2018 FLPI, of the loss and decline of freshwater biodiversity. You can read our letter to Science here.
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