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UK signs up to UN water convention

25 June 2012

We were delighted to hear Nick Clegg announce last week that the UK government will sign up to the UN Watercourses Convention. It's an important treaty that aims to make sure the 263 rivers in the world that cross international boundaries are protected and peacefully shared. We've been working hard behind the scenes for several years, including with DFID and DEFRA, to encourage the UK government to sign up to the Watercourses Convention.

Our CEO David Nussbaum says: "Congratulations to Nick Clegg and the UK government for taking this important step in protecting our world’s precious freshwater supplies. Our rivers and lakes are the lifeblood of our planet, vital for much of the world's growing population and a critical resource for our precious wildlife."

Better management of rivers, lakes and aquifers can help to ensure water security for poor people; can help to ensure food and energy security and economic development for many countries, water for cultivation of globally-traded 'thirsty' crops, and, where watercourses cross national boundaries, it can help to reduce chances of geopolitical tensions.

"This UN Convention will encourage countries to work together to share this finite resource and avoid potential water conflicts, brought about by increasing demand, and unavoidable impacts of climate change.

"We hope other countries will follow the UK's example to make sure the Convention comes into force."

The announcement, made by Mr Clegg last week at the Rio+20 conference, means the UK will join the growing number of countries agreeing to accede to the convention - it needs 35 to sign up for it to be ratified and become law.

The announcement came just weeks after our Living Planet Report showed that biodiversity in tropical rivers around the world has declined 70% since 1970 - a steeper fall than for forest or oceans.

When ratified the UN Watercourses Convention will help to protect rivers such as the Mekong which, with its tributaries, flows through six countries including China, Burma, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam and which supplies a large proportion of the world's freshwater fish catch.

The UN Watercourses Convention is the only global convention setting out good practice for managing these watercourses. It includes provisions which encourage countries to share information and agree conflict resolution measures. Importantly, it also emphasises the need to take account of freshwater ecosystems.

Mark Zeitoun, director of the Water Security Research centre at the University of East Anglia, says: ''The UK has done well to support these vital UN principles for fair water-sharing between states.

"Nowhere is this more critical than in the Middle East, where Iraqi farmers now suffer from massive water-diversion projects built upstream on the Euphrates, and where decades of denial of access to the river Jordan increases the strain for Palestinians and Lebanon.

‘By signing up to the UN watercourses convention the UK has signalled its intention to help countries and people across the globe who need it most to take a vital step towards water security. And it's a step that is consistent with its firm leadership on global climate governance."

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A English river at sunset

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