Water Problems and Solutions in the Wake of International Day of Biodiversity 2013

Richard Matthews

Water is synonymous with biological diversity. The UN's International Day for Biological Diversity (IBD) is celebrated each year on May 22nd, it is designed to increase awareness of biodiversity issues. The theme for IBD 2013 was Water and Biodiversity and its goal was to raise awareness about the mutually reinforcing relationship between water security and biodiversity.

Water is the key to biological diversity

From its creation by the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly in 1993 until 2000, IBD was held on December 29 to celebrate the day the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) went into effect. The date was later changed to commemorate the adoption of the CBD on May 22, 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit.

Providing water access is a major challenge for sustainable development. Only a tiny amount of the water on our planet is easily available as freshwater and demand is increasingly outpacing supply. In the U.S., the issue of water scarcity is widespread with two-thirds of the country suffering from extreme drought last summer. The UN estimates that 1.2 billion people or almost one fifth of the world's population live in areas of physical scarcity.

The UN has designated the period between 2005 and 2015 as the International Decade for Action 'WATER FOR LIFE'. As explained in a notice from Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the theme this year was chosen to coincide with the United Nations' designation of 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation.

An IBD message from the UN Secretary General focused on the Millennium Development Goals which includes sustainable water development to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health. The Secretary General concludes his message by calling on all parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to ratify the Nagoya Protocol.

An IBD message from Julia Marton Lefevre, the Director General of IUCN, succinctly states that “water is the lifeline for biodiversity.”

There were a wide range of water related IBD events around the globe including those organized by UNEP, national governments and NGOs.

These activities included:

  • Translating booklets, leaflets and other educational resources into local languages.
  • Distributing information on biodiversity via schools, colleges, universities, newspapers, radio and television.
  • Exhibitions and seminars for students, professionals and the general public.
  • Showings of movies on environmental issues.
  • Presentations of programs to preserve endangered species or habitats.
  • Planting trees and other plants that help prevent erosion.

Despite these educational efforts, the public is largely unaware of the life altering consequences of water issues, particularly those associated with our oceans.

An IBD message from Irina Bokova, the Director General of UNESCO, cautions that we are destroying the Earth’s biological diversity even though we have yet to fully understand the ways in which this interconnected web sustains life on the planet. What we do know is that water is at the center of biodiversity.

“The water cycle determines biological diversity, and biological diversity in turn determines the water cycle and the local climate. Tropical rainforests draw water up from the soil and groundwater though the roots of trees and then release into the atmosphere quantities of water that fall as rain. The biodiversity of forests and oceans act as global heat regulators mitigating climate change by binding carbon. Ocean acidification endangers marine biodiversity, which in turn affects the food chain on which we depend.”

Ocean Acidification

The world’s oceans provide vital services including absorbing up to half of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that we produce while making 50 percent of all the oxygen we breathe.

The increased quantities of CO2 in the atmosphere are being absorbed by the oceans and this is causing what is known as acidification. The ocean has become 30 percent more acidic since the start of The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century and it is predicted that the oceans will be 150 percent more acidic by the end of this century.

Higher acidity levels have far reaching effects including the disruption of the life cycle of some vital marine organisms. One such key organism is phytoplankton, the microscopic plants that produce most of the ocean's oxygen. According to the Census of Marine Life, phytoplankton have been declining by approximately 1 percent per year since 1900.

Vital marine ecosystems like coral are also being decimated by global warming and ocean acidification. Almost half of the world’s coral reefs might be lost by 2050 and another 30 percent could be seriously depleted. Thousands of species rely on coral reefs for their survival, if coral reefs die, so too do the multitude of marine organisms that depend on them.

Information Sharing

If we are to have any hope of effectively managing our water resources we will have to embark on unprecedented international cooperation and information sharing. Finding solutions to the urgent water related problems we face demands that we forge innovative arrangements and share best practices. To facilitate the exchange of information, a tool known as WATER-L offers peer-to-peer knowledge sharing through an online database focused on sustainable water and sanitation. This free tool is designed for policy makers and practitioners. The site is managed and moderated by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) Reporting Services.

Efforts to raise awareness are essential to water management, however, we also need to find solutions. Possible approaches to the world water crisis are addressed in the CBD's overarching framework known as the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.

Another important water initiative comes from the international Blue Carbon Initiative that promotes the sustainable use of the oceans. We may also see some valuable suggestions from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which was established in 2012.

Once we have identified solutions we will then need to devise enforceable laws that are able to protect the world's water supplies including the vast swaths of ocean that fall outside of national jurisdictions.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Martin Sharman, courtesy flickr


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