What do we learn about the state of our freshwater ecosystems from the IPBES Global Assessment Report?

Jayne Mann


The report, released in Paris by Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) on May 6th 2019, really shone a light on the state of our environment. The report stressed that it isn’t too late to make a difference and local action is key to making a significant difference. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson “The Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said. It recommends the following policies and actions for freshwater environments:
  • Develop inclusive water governance for collaborative water management and better integration of water resource management and landscape planning.
  • Promote practices to reduce soil erosion, sedimentation and pollution run-off.
  • Increase water storage.
  • Promote investment in water projects which have a clear sustainability criteria.
  • Address the fragmentation of many freshwater policies.
Alistair Maltby, Operations Director at The Rivers Trust, said: “No-one recognises the catastrophic decline in our freshwaters more than we do. Whilst we are proud to have made progress in all of these recommendations ourselves and with communities through our support of the Catchment-based Approach, we need the support of government, business, and landowners to do more and faster to address this urgent situation.” Alex Adam, Head of Water Stewardship, said: “Our work with supply chains as part of the Courtauld 2025 commitment to support collaborative actions to reduce water consumption and improve land management practices within some pilot catchment areas are beginning to drive some changes, but the alarming statistic in this report, in particular that more than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production, means that we have our work cut out to ensure that these practices are as sustainable as possible and scaled up across all catchments, improving matters for business, the environment and communities.” Some other significant findings in relation to freshwater ecosystems include:
  • More than 85% of wetlands present in 1700 had been lost by 2000 – loss of wetlands is currently three times faster, in percentage terms, than forest loss.
  • More than 40%: amphibian species threatened with extinction.
  • 25% average proportion of species threatened with extinction across terrestrial, freshwater and marine vertebrate, invertebrate and plant groups that have been studied in sufficient detail.
  • 70% increase since 1970 in numbers of invasive alien species across 21 countries with detailed records.
  • More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
  • 23% of land areas that have seen a reduction in productivity due to land degradation.
  • 33%: marine fish stocks in 2015 being harvested at unsustainable levels
  • More than 80%: global wastewater discharged untreated into the environment
  • Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980. 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters.
  • Fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totalling more than 245,000 km2 (591-595) – a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.
  • Nature managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities is under increasing pressure but is generally declining less rapidly than in other lands.
Read our Rivers Trust Review to see how we've been improving river environments across the UK and Ireland.
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