The 16th Living Lakes International Conference was held in the city of Puno (Perú) from December 6th to December 8th 2022, hosted by the Binational Autonomous Authority of Lake Titicaca (Peru-Bolivia). At the end of the conference, the participants agreed on the following Declaration, calling for global and local action to conserve and restore lakes and wetlands across the world:
Living Lakes – Declaration of Lake Titicaca 2022
Over the last three hundred years, we have lost about 85% of our lakes and wetlands. Wetlands – one of the most economically valuable ecosystems and essential regulators of the world’s climate – are disappearing three times faster than forests. A Ramsar Global Report published in 2018 highlights that approximately 35% of the world’s wetlands were lost between 1970 and 2015 and the rate of loss is accelerating annually since 2000. This reality is more than worrying.
It is human activities that have caused and continue to cause degradation and loss of wetlands by changing water quality, quantity and flows, increasing urbanisation along lakeshores, increasing inputs of pollutants and changing species composition, for example through overfishing and the introduction of invasive species. With the disappearance of lakes and wetlands, people lose the biodiversity and ecosystem services essential to sustain human life and the planet.
In response to the themes of the conference participants noted that:
- There is an urgent need to strengthen existing legal frameworks to effectively and significantly protect wetlands, leading to the restoration of degraded wetlands. While the vast majority of countries have ratified the International Convention on Biological Diversity as well as the Ramsar Convention and passed laws for the protection of ecosystems, the degradation and destruction of wetlands and lakes has not been reduced to date. Governments must guarantee the full implementation of environmental laws and establish the corresponding sanctions for non-compliance. According to the “polluter pays” principle, those responsible for environmental damage must assume the consequences established in the Law.
- Strong institutional and financial frameworks are urgently needed to promote wetland restoration, including funding programmes for restoration projects, especially supporting projects of citizens’ initiatives and environmental organisations. Regional administrations with responsibilities for lake management should establish structures to involve different stakeholders and encourage public-private partnership restoration projects. Furthermore, companies in the basins and/or with a strong relationship with water should contribute financially and participate in restoration initiatives.
- A World Water Fund is also needed to channel global resources to close the SDG gaps, as well as to ensure the protection of lakes and wetlands. Binding and coordinated action must start at the heart of the United Nations through a World Water Organisation that unifies the work of the agencies of the UN System as well as the Cooperation Agencies, in a way that harmonises global social and environmental demands.
- Binding, science-based action plans are needed as a framework and guidance for projects and other lake restoration initiatives. Lakeshores and watersheds should be included in the consideration of lake management plans. These habitats are critical to the viability of lake ecosystems. Since they are the interface between the lake itself and its users, special attention should be taken in planning and implementation in the case of these areas.
- An adequate and transparent monitoring system is also necessary to check whether the objectives of recovery, protection and management of a lake have been achieved. Monitoring results should be analysed and evaluated by independent scientists and the conclusions and recommendations should be considered in the action and/or management plan. The monitoring reports have to be public and the management should inform all stakeholder representatives.
- A key element of a restoration plan must be to agree acceptable standards of water quality and quantity, acceptable to all water users and ensure that biodiversity thrives. The use of municipal wastewater treatment plants should be mandatory and their efficiency monitored. The implementation of Green Filters as “natural solutions” with low construction and maintenance costs for small settlements should be promoted and supported.
- More and more micro plastic is being detected in lakes all over the world. This new form of pollution can only be filtered out by technically advanced sewage treatment plants. We call on municipalities to take measures to reduce the use of plastic and to ban single-use plastic articles.
- Preventing pollution and unsustainable water abstraction is more important than technological solutions for remediation. Normally, local authorities are responsible for wastewater treatment. They need capacity building and financial resources in order to operate and maintain treatment plants properly. Households also need to recognise the importance of wastewater treatment and be willing to pay for this important service. This requires the implementation of strategies aimed at educating and raising awareness among the population.
- A major threat to the quality and quantity of water in a lake is intensive agriculture with unsustainable practices. Governments should implement aid programmes to support small farmers to become certified with ambitious sustainability standards. The goal should be to at least double the area of organic agriculture around the lake by 2030. On the other hand, it is necessary to incentivise the transformation of the technical basis of irrigation systems, seeking to maximise their efficiency in the capture, transport and application of water for crops.
- Most lakes and wetlands are heavily polluted. There is an urgent need to financially support and develop the application of methods and technologies to improve water quality.
- The conservation status of the wetland defines its capacity to mitigate climate change, finding its maximum carbon sequestration capacity when they are in a good state of conservation and, on the contrary, they can even become net emitters of greenhouse gases if they are degraded.
- In almost all lakes, fish stocks have declined with significant losses of endemic species. The resulting loss of livelihoods for the lake’s fishermen has become much of the norm. Fishermen are often the poorest members of the community and the formation of associations and the strengthening of fisheries so that they are actively included in lake management should be promoted.
- Education and information of the local population about the importance of the lake as an ecosystem with its essential ecosystem services is essential. National, regional and local governments should not be satisfied with a low level of awareness of the population, which is “learning” to live with the pollution disaster.
- Community participation in lake restoration activities and projects is needed, as well as involving their perspectives and knowledge. The presence or absence of public support for a restoration project can be the difference between positive results and failure. It is therefore very important to encourage and support cooperation between public and private organisations.
- Participatory monitoring of lakes and wetlands should be implemented and strengthened as an inclusive tool for the identification and prioritisation of environmental problems. Thies must achieved through the involvement of civil society in the collection and analysis of data on water quality and quantity of water bodies, so that decision-making takes into account the vision of the inhabitants of the basin, and enriches the perspectives on a highly complex issue.
All conference participants express their unreserved gratitude to the Binational Autonomous Authority of Lake Titicaca (Peru-Bolivia) and the Global Nature Fund for hosting the conference. The venue on the shores of Lake Titicaca and the excursions were instrumental in facilitating the high level of discussion among participants and reinforced the urgency of the actions needed to protect and restore wetlands and lakes worldwide.
Puno, 8 December 2022,
Signed by the conference participants