WWF and the UN 2023 Water Conference

Two people cast a fishing net into the Mekong River as the sun rises

We cannot overstate the importance of freshwater. Healthy freshwater ecosystems are critical for nature and people to thrive. Despite the obvious imperative, freshwater conservation has not always been prioritized by global governments and decision-makers. Water often goes unseen and undervalued.

Fortunately, the world came together to discuss water for the first time in 46 years at the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York in March 2023. More than 8,000 attendees from governments, corporations, and local communities came to discuss the central role of rivers, lakes, and wetlands in tackling the nature and climate crises, reducing disaster risk, and driving sustainable development.

WWF proudly collaborated with the government of the Netherlands (the conference co-hosts) to shape the plenary agenda as well as facilitating more than 30 events in New York to drive water action. 

A few key takeaways from the conference

Momentum for real action on water and freshwater ecosystems

The UN 2023 Water Conference concluded with 700 commitments from governments, companies, and civil society. While these are non-binding, they have the potential to dramatically accelerate action on water and freshwater ecosystems. Critically, they signal a transformation in attitudes to water and unprecedented momentum that we must capitalize on. 

Connecting water, nature, and climate 

The connection between water, nature, and climate is critical and resonates broadly. One of the central themes throughout the conference was the importance of freshwater ecosystems in climate adaptation and resilience, and the urgent need to scale up transformational nature-based solutions. WWF helped organize and lead an event on radical collaboration for resilience with the CEO Water Mandate—a special initiative established in 2007 by the UN Secretary-General and the UN Global Compact (UNGC) to advance corporate water stewardship around the world—and other major UN groups representing Indigenous Peoples, women, youth, farmers, and businesses. We also premiered our short film, Journey of Water - New York: From the Catskills to the City, showing how NY has invested in healthy watersheds and freshwater ecosystems to secure its water supply and benefit people and nature.  

Launch of the largest river and wetland restoration initiative in history

Initiated by WWF, the Freshwater Challenge was launched at a high-level session hosted by the governments of Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Gabon, Mexico, and Zambia with the aim to restore 186,411 miles of degraded rivers and more than 864 million acres of degraded wetlands by 2030.

More coherent and structured approach to corporate collective action

A variety of events brought the water stewardship community together to drive a more united approach to ensure greater impact, including signing up for joint policy asks to accelerate public-private collaboration on water. These events featured a wide range of partners, from governments to global institutions, companies, civil society, and Indigenous Peoples, ensuring a diversity of perspectives and knowledge was shared.