In March 2023 leaders from around the world gathered at the UN General Assembly in New York for the UN 2023 Water Conference. The first gathering of its kind in 46 years, it ended in the adoption of the Water Action Agenda, which included major funding commitments to accelerate progress on Sustainable Development Goal 6 which commits countries to preserve and restore sources of fresh water.

The conference’s Water Action Agenda includes over 750 commitments. Many of these relate to water resources management and freshwater ecosystems and but some relate specifically to lakes, reservoirs and other similar freshwater ecosystems in need of protection and restoration. Find a list of these lake-related commitments below.

Many lakes are shared between two or more countries. Examples include the Caspian Sea, the North American Great Lakes, Lake Victoria and Lake Chad, making international collaboration on their preservation vital. The need for innovative partnerships and greater collaboration was highlighted in the World Water Development Report 2023, the United Nations annual flagship report on water launched at the conference. And the Conference’s Interactive Dialogue 4 highlighted the need for closer, well-financed and inclusive regional collaboration on water.

Sustainable management of lakes is essential to the Water Action Agenda and to ending the triple planetary crisis. Sustainable Lake Management for Ecosystem Restoration is critical to tackle the threats facing lakes, which include over abstraction, and pollution due to run-off from intensive farming systems: indiscriminate use of fertilizer, for example, can cause algal blooms in lakes that kill fish. A major call at the conference was for more accurate and timely data on the changing extent of lakes, as well as their pollution levels.

One of the major outcomes of the Conference was recognition of the fact that sound water data and information are the basis for effective decisions and policymaking in response to climate change impacts, disaster risks, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. This was a core message of UNEP’s engagement at the Conference, including a session specifically dedicated to sustainable lake management as well as the virtual launch of the Measuring Progress on Water-related Ecosystems report.

We know that we are lacking serious amounts of water-related environmental data. Globally, 3 billion people are at health risk due to scarce data on water quality. Without adequate data, decision-makers cannot identify countries, people and sectors that are left behind, or set priorities for increased efforts and investments.

Another major conference outcome was the need to advance progress on monitoring and implementation of SDG 6. From April to September 2023, UNEP will be seeking updates from states on their progress in gathering data for the three environmental SDG 6 indicators for which it acts as the global custodian: ambient water quality (6.3.2), integrated water resources management (6.5.1) and freshwater ecosystems (6.6.1). This effort is part of the UN’s broader 2023 Data Drive on water.