Protecting Rivers Is No Joke – And the World Now Agrees

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By Zach Green (President and co-founder) and Chris Keefer (CEO and co-founder) of Rivers are Life.

2024 represents a mission critical inflection point for the world in confronting the climate crisis. For example, new rules in the European Union and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission will change how global businesses report risks and manage supply chains, not to mention 175 nations have been debating and negotiating the first global treaty to end plastic waste, which is expected to conclude at the end of the year.

Set amongst this backdrop, rivers continue to face their own challenges globally as they are in dire need of more people to get involved in improving, protecting, and preserving them. For example, The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) sixth climate assessment underscores the need for behavioral change as most of the world’s rivers are under severe stress from warming temperatures, pollution, and the pressures of development.

In an effort to inspire change, Rivers are Life – a collective voice for global river ecosystems – commissioned a global survey at the end of 2023, reaching nearly 7,000 people globally across 14 continents to better learn and share what people think about climate change and water ways. As one of the largest, international studies on our relationship with rivers conducted in recent years, the results were surprising.

  • 91% of people around the world agree that climate change must be acted on in 2024. In fact, Climate Change was perceived as the #1 most concerning issue, followed by pollution, access to clean water, education, and human rights.
  • When asked “what’s the biggest obstacle to reducing water pollution?” 76% of people say it is YOU.

So, what can the general public do with his data? Below are three important takeaways to consider.

1. Embrace the Importance of Rivers on the World Stage

Rivers at their core provide communities with economic, ecological, and cultural value. Yet, according to a new study by WWF and partners, “only a little more than one-third of the world’s 246 longest rivers remain free-flowing, drastically reducing the diverse benefits that healthy rivers provide to people and nature everywhere.”

Historically, rivers have also served both as recreation and a mode of transportation. Additionally, rivers provide a natural habitat for many animals throughout the world, not to mention, they are used for drinking water and to irrigate crops. Our survey found that 81% of respondents say rivers are a vital part of the food system; however, a majority of people selected “I would not eat a fish out of my local river.” As global citizens, we need to ensure our rivers are clean and unpolluted so they can remain a natural food source for our neighbors.

For all of the reasons listed above, it is of the utmost importance to protect our planet’s rivers – which was a resounding takeaway from our recent survey, as 80% of respondents globally agree that rivers have an impact on their lives.

2. Education is Key to Change

Cutting across continents, countries, cultures, and generations, our survey found nearly 50% admit they don’t know enough about current environmental issues and 98% of people around the world indicated they would like to know more.

Fortunately, all Australian governments have invested in programs and projects aimed at protecting rivers, wetlands, and estuaries. There is national recognition of the importance of this issue across all jurisdictions. When looking to learn more, start with the local governing body for information.

In addition to acknowledging the lack of education on environmental issues, the survey also found that awareness of the issues is a vital concern. In fact, “74% of participants surveyed believe more public awareness will improve the health of rivers” and “63% say lack of attention to the issue is a major obstacle to reducing water pollution.”By establishing a platform that cultivates a human connection with rivers (i.e. Rivers are Life) we are diligently working to redefine and visualize the conversation surrounding negative impacts of the waste-stream on our global river systems.

Between regulatory bodies and global partners/organizations dedicated to preserving rivers, the environment could appear as stable. If we wish to see real change this century and truly reverse the negative effects of climate change, it will require individuals, entities, governing bodies, and organizations alike to act.

3. Take Action

To no surprise, our survey found 76% believe that human behavior is the biggest obstacle to reducing water pollution. With this in mindmore than half of survey respondents (59%) plan to clean their local rivers in 2024 and 72% of people around the world would like to see stricter policies or more regulation to curb river pollution.

2024 is expected to be the year of action and change – whether it is calling your local representative, organizing a river cleanup, donating to a cause, or generating awareness for the importance of clean, natural rivers around the world – every action is a step in the right direction.

This year is the time for brands and individuals alike to recognize their role as agents of change and embrace the responsibility that comes with it.

Looking to get more involved, connect with Rivers are Life online, at:



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