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RIO+20/ WATER: Vital UN Watercourses Convention on verge of ratification, says WWF

15 June 2012

(Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) - A global agreement to protect rivers, aquifers and lakes shared between nations, as well as prevent so-called 'water wars' moved a step closer to coming into effect, it was announced in Rio today.

WWF and partners, along with representatives of countries attending next week's Earth Summit in Rio, joined together at a transboundary waters side event [1] yesterday to discuss progress toward the enforcement of the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention – a global UN agreement aiming to help in the protection, sustainable management and development of river basins that cross international borders. It is the only remaining convention adopted as a result of the momentum generated by the original Earth Summit some 20 years ago that has yet to come into effect. [2]

For the Convention to become legally binding, at least 35 nations must ratify it. Currently, 26 have done so, with the latest being Luxembourg, just before negotiations started here in Rio [3]. At yesterday's event, WWF and partners revealed that at least 12 more nations are actively engaged in the ratification process. [4]

WWF says this means the Convention could come into effect within the next few months, in time for the UN International Year of Water Cooperation in 2013. There are 276 transboundary river basins around the globe, covering nearly half of the earth’s land surface and crossing the territories of 145 countries. Such basins are home to 40% of the world’s population and generate around 60% of global freshwater flow.

WWF Senior Programme Officer and specialist on the UN Watercourse Convention, Flavia Rocha Loures, said:
"Thanks to progress in recent years, we are tantalizingly close to seeing the UN Watercourses Convention come into force. This would mark a major breakthrough in the process for better governing and safeguarding the world's precious transboundary water resources for people and nature.

"Freshwater ecosystems provide essential services for the welfare and livelihoods of people, such as food, flood control, and clean water. But these ecosystems are under severe threat from development pressures, and climate change will only make things worse. In transboundary basins, these challenges are compounded. Without clear rules guiding cooperation between states the chances for disputes and mismanagement are much greater. This is where the UN Watercourses Convention comes in."

The event also saw Denmark and France receive WWF 'Leaders for a Living Planet' awards for taking the lead in the ratification process and directly contributing to the Convention’s impending entry into force. At the event, both countries, along with Finland, encouraged others to become parties too. Ireland, also represented, announced its intention to complete the ratification process shortly [5]

Mrs. Ida Auken, the Danish Minister of the Environment, said:
"It is a great honour for Denmark to receive the ‘Leaders for a Living Planet Award’ from WWF for our ratification of the UN Watercourse Convention. Cooperation on water management is one of the most important issues at the Rio+20 Conference and one of the most challenging topics of our time. I will personally do my best to ensure that the Rio outcome will further improve international water policy."

Media contacts:
In Rio:
Flavia Rocha Loures (Mobile) +1.202.640.9055 flavia.loures@wwfus.org
Lang Banks (Mobile) +44791 996 1961 (Email) lbanks@wwfscotland.org.uk

In Geneva:
Natalia Boudou (Office) +41 22 364 9554 (Mobile) +4179 82 02898 nboudou@wwfint.org
NOTES TO EDITORS:
[1] Rio+20 Side Event: “Transboundary Waters, Climate Change and Good Governance: What Role for the UN Watercourses Convention (UNWC)”
Organised by: Green Cross International, the Government of Norway, the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Women for Water Partnership (WfWP), and WWF.
Date & Time Slot: 14 Jun 2012, 17:30 - 19:00
Venue T-8 (RioCentro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

[2] More information about the UN Watercourses convention:
http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/how_we_work/policy/conventions/water_conventions/un_watercourses_convention/
Briefing on the UN Watercourses Convention and Rio+20
http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/rio_unwc_policy_brief_draft_jun2012.pdf

[3] List of 26 countries which have ratified already:
Burkina Faso • Denmark • Finland • France • Germany • Greece • Guinea-Bissau • Hungary • Iraq • Jordan • Lebanon • Libya • Luxembourg • Morocco • Namibia • Netherlands • Nigeria • Norway • Portugal • Qatar • South Africa • Spain • Sweden • Syria • Tunisia • Uzbekistan • Yemen

[4] List of 12 countries WWF is aware are actively engaged in the ratification process:
Benin • Ghana • Honduras • Ireland • Italy • Niger • Papua New Guinea • Poland • Romania • Senegal • UK • Vietnam

[5] The 'Leaders for a Living Planet' Award is part of the UN Watercourses Convention Global Initiative, to recognize the efforts of the countries that have taken the lead in the process and ratified, contributing to its entry into force. WWF has granted it to most contracting states by now, at occasions such as the 5th World Water Forum, the World Water Week, and the Africa Water Week.

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