The Coca-Cola Company and the World Wildlife Fund have announced a global project to conserve water, focusing on seven international rivers. The head of the soft drink company says Coca-Cola also aims to return to nature all the water it uses in the manufacture of beverages. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

Coca-Cola says the $20 million project will focus on conservation efforts on seven river systems in twenty countries.

They include China's Yangtze River, the Rio Grande-Rio Bravo that serves as part of the U.S.-Mexican border, the Mekong River of Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe's Danube. Several rivers and lakes in coastal East Africa are also included.

Neville Isdell, Coca-Cola's chief executive officer, also pledged to eventually replace all the water Coca-Cola uses to manufacture beverages, by increasing the efficiency of production, recycling water supplies and contributing to the river conservation projects.

"Essentially, the pledge is to return every drop of water that we use back to nature," said Isdell. "By 2010, we will return all water that we use in our manufacturing processes to the environment at a level that supports aquatic life and agriculture."

Isdell says the company will improve its wastewater treatment standards in 100 percent of its operations, meeting higher standards than local requirements by 2010.

He says the company must adopt a more sustainable water consumption policy. If not, he said Tuesday, Coke's business will be affected, as water supplies run low and local communities no longer welcome the company.

Coca-Cola uses some 290 billion liters of water each year to make Coke, Sprite and other soft drinks.

Isdell's comments came at the opening of the World Wildlife Fund's annual meeting held in Beijing, where climate change is a major focus.

Climate change is thought to be contributing to increased droughts, flooding, and storms affecting water supplies across the world.

James Leape, director of the World Wildlife Fund, says China's influence on the global environment is increasingly apparent.

"The choices made here in China today and over [the] coming decades will have huge implications for the environment and sustainability of this country. But, also of course for the environment of the planet," said Leape.

China is set to surpass the United States this year as the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, one of the so-called "greenhouse gases" thought to contribute to global warming.

China's huge population and booming economy have placed a great burden on resources, and the country suffers regularly from water-related problems including droughts, floods and water shortages.

On Tuesday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported that a long drought in southwestern China has left nearly four million people and 4.5 million livestock short of drinking water.