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Rivers and wetlands: drivers of sustainable regional development

Policy brief
By Platform

Rivers and wetlands are critical for life on Earth since they provide a wide range of ecosystem services upon which species and habitats, as well as humans and their socio-economic activities entirely, depend, such as food, biodiversity, water, and climate regulation. Yet available data point both to their continuous degradation as well as to limited and slow-paced efforts to restore their natural functions. According to the European Environmental Agency (EEA), only around 40 % of the 110,000 bodies of surface water in the EU (i.e. rivers, lakes, and transitional and coastal waters) are currently in good ecological status and only 38 % in a good chemical status, which will make it hard to achieve the corresponding goals set by the Water Framework Directive.

The Global Wetland Outlook published by the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention on wetlands of international importance also portrays a worrying situation as it reports that our continent lost 35% of its inland and coastal wetlands since 1970. Most damages are being recorded in Mediterranean Europe, where almost half of the natural wetlands have disappeared.

The present policy brief aims to provide a clear overview of how the current EU policy framework may guide and support local and regional authorities in the implementation of river and wetland restoration measures and of nature-based solutions to improve or reverse the abovementioned trends. It also intends to put the spotlight on the wealth of good practices from Interreg Europe projects that can serve as an inspiration for untapping the potential of rivers as drivers of local and regional sustainable development. In this respect, particular attention will be devoted to showcasing ways to valorise the natural and cultural heritage along inland watercourses, foster sustainable transport on inland waterways, integrate wetlands in green-blue infrastructures and preserve nature and culture around river mouths.

Coastal areas and rivers