Wetlands are essential to efforts to regulate the global climate
10 Dec 2018
Wetlands – world’s most valuable ecosystem – disappearing three times faster than forests, warns new report.
Approximately 35 per cent of the world’s wetlands were lost between 1970-2015 with annual rates of loss accelerating from 2000, according to the first-ever Global Wetland Outlook.
Losses have been driven by megatrends such as climate change, population increase, urbanization, particularly of coastal zones and river deltas, and changing consumption patterns that have all fuelled changes to land and water use and to agriculture.
Wetlands, which include lakes, rivers, marshes and peatlands as well as coastal and marine areas such as estuaries, lagoons, mangroves and coral reefs, are currently estimated to cover more than 12.1 million km2, an area greater than Greenland. Between 13-18 per cent of them are on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, which are protected sites.
Wetlands are critical to human and planet life. Directly or indirectly, they provide almost all of the world’s consumption of freshwater. More than one billion people depend on them for a living and 40 per cent of the world’s species live and breed in wetlands. They are a vital source for food, raw materials, genetic resources for medicines, and hydropower; they mitigate floods, protect coastlines and build community resilience to disasters, and they play an important role in transport, tourism and the cultural and spiritual well-being of people.
Wetlands are also essential to efforts to regulate the global climate. Peatlands store twice as much carbon as the world’s forests despite accounting for just three per cent of the world’s land surface, with salt marshes, sea grass beds and mangroves also carbon-dense ecosystems. However, wetlands produce 20-25 per cent of global methane emissions and rising temperatures from climate change are expected to increase greenhouse gases from wetlands, particularly in permafrost regions.
Despite this, wetlands remain dangerously undervalued by policy and decision-makers in national plans. An inexplicable omission given the pivotal role wetlands play in delivering global commitments on climate change, sustainable development, biodiversity and disaster risk reduction, with wetlands contributing to 75 indicators of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) alone.
The Parties to the Ramsar Convention have committed to the conservation and wise use of all wetlands. Although they have designated more than 2,300 sites of international importance so far, making the Ramsar List one of the world’s largest networks of protected areas, designating new sites for protection is not enough.
The GWO emphasizes the necessity of developing effective wetland management plans and integrating wetlands into the planning and implementation of national plans on sustainable development, climate change and other key global commitments.
The report also stresses good governance and effective institutions at local, national and regional levels as a crucial factor in preventing, ending, and reversing trends in wetland loss and degradation. More accurate data on wetland extent and wetland inventories is needed to help countries identify priority sites for restoration. Indigenous and local knowledge as well as citizen scientists are already invaluable resources on the state of wetlands and can be used more.
Drawing on successful examples across the world, the report recommends using existing funding mechanisms to apply economic and financial incentives for communities and business to protect wetlands through tax benefits. Perverse incentives for farmers and business such as subsidies to agriculture that encourage wetland conversion or pollution should be ended.
Photo Credits : Gab Mejia/Ramsar Convention
First published: Ramsar Convention Website