Nature for Water: Protecting, restoring & sustainably managing forests for water security

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Nature for Water: Protecting, restoring & sustainably managing forests for water security

by Nicole DeSantis - May 30, 2018

The recent report Nature for Water, Nature for Life: Nature-based solutions for achieving the Global Goals, featured by the Nature for Life partnership*, captures the latest thinking and research on the importance of safeguarding and restoring natural ecosystems, including forests, grasslands, mountains and wetlands, if we are to meet a growing demand for water and enhance water security for communities and ecosystems worldwide.

"By 2030, 5 billion people could face water scarcity, placing profound constraints on our ability to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Nature provides us with a clear pathway for tackling this crisis. By protecting, restoring and sustainably managing natural ecosystems, we can mitigate the impacts of this crisis, and improve the lives of billions of people. But we must act now."

 -- Jamison Ervin, UNDP


Forest protection, restoration, and sustainable management are essential for achieving water security, a key ingredient for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Forests have an immense potential to address challenges in water quality, quantity and reliability, including regulating water flow following storm surges and minimizing soil erosion and sedimentation. Various case examples are featured in the report, including the New York initiative to support forest protection in the 100,000 hectare Catskill State Park, which provides protection to the two watersheds that comprise the water supply for New York City. In fact, according to The Nature Conservancy, more than 3,200 cities could enhance their water quality and improve water flow by reducing sedimentation, decreasing fertilizer run-off, improving agricultural practices, and protecting and restoring forests, all for minimal cost.

In addition to direct benefits for water security, forests provide a crucial carbon sink and are a key contributor to climate mitigation measures. Achieving the Paris Climate Agreement and holding warming to below 2oC depends on urgent multi-stakeholder actions, policies and finance to halt deforestation, sustainably manage forests, and expand forest restoration and protection efforts.

Nature for Water, Nature for Life features a call to action for governments, donors, communities and companies to invest in nature and implement commitments, and highlights specific actions needed by other stakeholders including researchers, civil society and society at large.


Key Insights from the Nature for Water, Nature for Life report

Water is essential to achieving the Global Goals

Without sufficient quality and quantity of water, we will not be able to achieve the Global Goals, especially goals associated with poverty, food, health, economic development, energy, and gender, but we cannot achieve our water goals without nature.

Nature – especially forests, grasslands, mountains, wetlands – are essential for water security

Nature has a vital role to play in securing water resources, including regulating water flow, ensuring water quality, and reducing impacts from natural disasters. Particularly important are wetland, forest, mountain, and grassland ecosystems. Forest protected areas supply drinking water for one-third of the world’s largest cities, and the Himalayas supply water to one out of five people in the world.

Despite the importance of nature for water services, a large portion of the world’s important areas for water security are unprotected, degraded, or converted

Over the past three decades, we have lost ten percent of the planet’s wilderness, covering an area the size of half of the Amazon. In roughly the same time period, from 1990 to 2015, we have lost 129 million hectares of forest. As a result, according to The Nature Conservancy, 3,200 of the world’s top 4,000 cities have moderate to high levels of forest degradation. In addition, only a fraction of the world’s source watersheds have legally-designated protection.

Nature-based solutions are effective and cost-efficient, and deliver multiple co-benefits

More than 3,200 of the world’s largest cities could significantly improve their water quality and quantity through nature-based solutions, at a cost of less than US$2 per person annually. In many cases, forest restoration has already become an investment asset class.

There are many examples around the world of using nature-based solutions at local and national scales

Communities and governments have long recognized the value of nature for water. Examples from around the world show the same trend – safeguarding nature secures water-related services at a low cost, and is an investment that has multiple co-benefits that align closely with the Global Goals.

There is an urgent need for a call to action to protect, restore, and manage nature if we are to ensure water security and to achieve the Global Goals

Governments around the world have already made bold commitments to protect, restore, and sustainably manage nature. Governments have already taken bold action through their National Biodiversity Plans of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Nationally Determined Commitments of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Bonn Challenge for forest restoration, and the Sendai Framework to reduce disaster risk, among others.



* Nature for Life is a partnership between United Nations Development Programme and the Convention on Biological Diversity, supported by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.


About the Author

Nicole DeSantis is the Programme Specialist & Policy Adviser for
UNDP's Global Platform for the New York Declaration on Forests in New York.


Follow her on Twitter at @nicoledesant

To find more blog posts, visit the NYDF Blog.


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