Rivers are key to restoring global biodiversity
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
In October 2021, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will meet in China to adopt a new post-2020 global biodiversity framework to reverse biodiversity loss and its impacts on ecosystems, species and people. The conference comes at a time of great urgency: according to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we now have less than 10 years to halve our greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. At the same time, climate change is worsening the accelerating biodiversity crisis. Half of the planet’s species could be threatened with extinction by the end of this century.
And tragically, according to a UN report, “the world has failed to meet a single goal to stem the destruction of vital wildlife and ecosystems over the past decade.”
It is time to end this legacy of failure and seize the opportunities that lie before us to correct the mistakes of the past, manage the challenges of today, and meet the future challenges that the environment is likely to face. But if we want to protect biodiversity and simultaneously fight the climate crisis, we must protect rivers and freshwater ecosystems. And we must defend the rights of the communities whose livelihoods depend on them and who serve as their guardians and defenders. In doing so, we will improve the food security of the hundreds of millions of people who depend on freshwater ecosystems for their livelihoods and livelihoods – and give the estimated 140,000 freshwater species around the world a chance to survive. .
Rivers are heroes of biodiversity
At the next CBD, countries are expected to reach an agreement to protect 30% of the world’s oceans and land by 2030. But which land is protected, as part of this agreement, matters enormously. We cannot protect just any strip of land and consider our work done. Member countries should prioritize protecting regions where biodiversity is highest or where restoration will bring the greatest net benefits. Rivers, which are home to an extraordinary number of species, must be a priority area for protection and restoration.
Rivers are unsung heroes of biodiversity: although fresh water covers less than 1% of all water on the planet’s surface, it provides habitats for an astonishing number of species. Rivers are vital for the conservation and maintenance of wetlands, which are home or provide breeding grounds for around 40 percent of Earth’s species. That’s an astounding lifespan in a very small geographic area – and these numbers don’t take into account all the forests and other adjacent ecosystems, as well as the livelihoods of the people who depend on the rivers.
Reversing the decline of rivers and freshwater ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems have suffered some of the fastest declines in the past four decades. A global study by the World Wildlife Fund, “Living Planet Report 2020”, indicates that populations of global freshwater species have declined by 84 percent, “the equivalent of 4 percent per year since 1970”.
It is, in all respects, a disaster. Yet traditional development models, water management policies, and conservation and protected area policies continue to ignore the integrity of freshwater ecosystems and the livelihoods of the communities that depend on them.
As a result of these misguided policies, the fisheries that support millions of people are collapsing. Fresh water is increasingly degraded, and riverbank agriculture is suffering. In addition, we see indigenous peoples, who have long been prudent and effective stewards of their lands and waters, face increasing threats to their autonomy and well-being. The loss of biodiversity and the accompanying degradation of precious freshwater have a direct impact on food and water security and livelihoods.
But this disaster also suggests that by prioritizing the protection of rivers as part of that 30% target, the global community could slow down and start reversing some of the most egregious biodiversity losses. We have an incredible opportunity to quickly reverse significant environmental degradation and support the rebound of a myriad of species while strengthening food security for millions of people. But to be successful, COP countries must prioritize rivers and river communities.
Here are some steps countries can take immediately to stop the destruction of biodiversity:
1. Immediately stop the construction of dams in protected areas
Dams remain one of the great threats to the health of a river, and in particular to protected areas. More than 500 dams are currently being planned in protected areas around the world, says Yale Environment 360, while referring to a study published in Conservation Letters. In one of the most egregious examples, Tanzania is moving forward with plans to build the Stiegler’s Gorge Dam in the Selous Game Reserve – which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982 and a iconic refuge for wildlife. In terms of biodiversity protection, the cancellation of dams like these is a fruitful step if the idea of a “protected area” is to make sense.
2. Create prohibited development zones on the most diverse rivers in the world
Freshwater ecosystems face a myriad of threats from extractive industries such as mining and petroleum, as well as agro-industry and cattle ranching, overfishing, industrialization of waterways and urban industrial pollution. Investors, financiers, governments and CBD signatories must immediately end destructive development in biodiversity hotspots, legally protect the most biodiverse rivers from development, and decommission the deadliest dams of the planet.
3. Adopt sound water protection policies
Most decision-makers and decision-makers – and even some conservation organizations – do not fully understand how freshwater ecosystems and the hydrologic cycle work, and how intimately they relate to the health of terrestrial ecosystems they want. protect. Rivers and freshwater ecosystems urgently need strong protections, including policies that permanently protect freshwater and the rights of the communities that depend on it. In some places, this can go as far as granting rivers human rights. A growing global movement for nature rights and river rights is starting to tackle this.
4. Respect the rights of indigenous peoples and other traditional communities
Indigenous peoples protect “about 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity,” according to a National Geographic article, even though they represent only 5 percent of the world’s population. They are the world’s frontline defenders of water and biodiversity; we owe them a huge debt. Most importantly, they deserve to be protected. It is imperative that governments respect the territorial rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their right to self-determination and to free, prior and informed consent regarding projects that affect their waters and livelihoods.
Many indigenous communities like the Munduruku in the Amazon are fighting to defend their lands, rivers and culture. Threats to fishing and livelihoods from destructive dams, pollution from gold mines and industrial facilities can be constant in the Tapajós River basin in the Amazon and in many other indigenous territories.
5. Elevate Women Leaders
In many cultures, women are traditionally the custodians of freshwater, but they are excluded from decision-making processes. In response, they have become leaders in movements to protect rivers and freshwater ecosystems around the world. From the Teesta River in India to the Brazilian Amazon, women are leading a growing movement for river rights. A demand to include the voice of women in politics, governments and localities will ensure better decisions in the governance of shared waters.
The pursuit of perpetual and uncontrolled economic growth without much regard for human rights or the health of ecosystems has led our planet to a state of crisis. Floods, forest fires, climate refugees and collapsing biodiversity are no longer hallmarks of the distant future: they are here. In this new era, we must abandon unbridled economic growth as a measure of success and instead focus on equity and well-being.
Free-flowing rivers are an essential safety net that sustains our existence. To reverse the biodiversity crisis, we must follow the lead of indigenous groups, uplift women’s leadership, grant rights to rivers, drastically reduce dam construction and address other key threats to water. sweet.
What we agree to do over the next decade will determine our fate and that of future generations. We are the natural world. Its destruction is our destruction. The power to stop this destruction is in our hands; we just have to use it.