What you need to know about the global resolution on sustainable lake management
Source - UN Environment Programme - Across the world, freshwater and salt lakes are coming under increasing pressure from a combination of land use change, pollution from fertilizer run-off and industrial effluent, and rising temperatures. Many lakes are shrinking, adversely affecting people, livelihoods and the local environment.
The United Nations Environment Assembly in March this year adopted a resolution on sustainable lake management. This is the first-ever resolution dedicated specifically to lakes. We sat down with Stuart Crane, a UN Environment Programme (UNEP) expert on freshwater ecosystems, to learn more about the resolution, what it can achieve, and what it means in practice.
Why a resolution specifically on lakes?
Stuart Crane (SC): UNEP recognizes three interlinked planetary crises for urgent understanding, prioritization and action: climate, nature and chemicals and pollution. Lakes play a pivotal role as the impacts of all three of these interlinked planetary crises are directly, and in some cases disproportionately, felt on water bodies, which are essential for the lives, livelihoods and health of people, economies and the planet. The key, though, is that through their protection, restoration and better management, they can also help us combat all three of these crises.
The resolution requests Member States to "protect, conserve, restore and ensure the sustainable use of lakes," but it does not specify any deadlines by which goals or targets are to be achieved. What is the value of this resolution?
SC: We already have a target that protects freshwater ecosystems in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: UNEP, together with the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, acts as the global custodian for countries to monitor and implement this target in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – target number 6.6. So that commitment, which every country in the world has made, of course still stands. And we also have freshwater-related commitments that will be refreshed in the post-2020 biodiversity target discussions that are going on right now.
Through this commitment by states, the resolution on lakes adds value by accelerating action on a specific, and at times overlooked, type of freshwater ecosystem that needs dedicated attention. Lakes are critically important sources of fresh water for drinking, agriculture, and industry. This resolution is a first, sets the agenda for future actions and commitments, and strengthens the pathways to sustainable development.
What is UNEP's role?
SC: UNEP's role is to help advance sustainable lake management at all levels, in support of the SDG 6 water governance, water quality and freshwater ecosystem monitoring, reporting and implementation work that we undertake globally in support of all countries. Our role is to facilitate collaboration among Member States and raise awareness of sustainable lake management at the global level to highlight the important role played by lakes in maintaining the well-being of ecosystems and humanity.
The resolution does not differentiate between soda and freshwater lakes. Is that a problem?
SC: While not all lakes provide freshwater for drinking or food, all lakes are valuable ecosystems and support key species critical for biodiversity. Soda lakes, for instance, contain a unique array of bird species, microbes and enzymes, some of which are valuable for medicinal or industrial purposes.
How does UNEP galvanize support for action in line with the resolution?
SC: UNEP has the convening power to bring stakeholders and actors at all levels to the table for policy dialogue, science-based assessments, and environmental agreements. It provides the secretariat for multilateral environmental agreements related to freshwater, including the Convention on Biological Biodiversity, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. UNEP seeks to involve all stakeholders, including university and research centres, private companies and non-governmental organizations, in a concerted effort to implement sustainable lake management.
What are the main challenges to implementing the resolution?
SC: Enforcement of water resources policies and legislation. All Member States would like to see their lakes in pristine condition but managing the economic, social, environmental and climate change-related pressures on lakes requires collaborative agreement on management actions across impactful sectors. Financial and political investment is also essential to enforce water resource management rules and regulations. Conflicting interests easily stymy sustainable lake management.
What actions can UN Member States take to better protect lake ecosystems ?
SC: Work closely with all stakeholders with a vested interest in sustainable lake management and build a common understanding of the threats and impacts to lakes demonstrated through good quality and trustworthy data. This will help collectively identify those factors driving change and the workable lake protection measures that need to address these drivers. Local businesses and communities need to be incentivized to support lake protection measures and their involvement from the outset will help sustain lake management activities over the long term. More broadly, transboundary cooperation is paramount for effective transboundary lake and river basin management.