Convention seeks use of wetlands to tackle climate change

Climate change

With time running out to reduce global carbon emissions by 45 per cent before 2030 and limit global warming to well below 2C, The Ramsar Convention said wetlands provide a natural solution to making a daunting task more achievable.

According to the convention, harnessing of the power of the planet’s most effective carbon sinks, wetlands in national and global efforts will curb greenhouse gas emissions. 

The convention, which made the call in commemoration of the wetlands day celebration , stressed that wetlands such as peatlands and marshes, as well as coastal and marine areas like estuaries, lagoons, mangroves and coral reefs, are essential to regulating the global climate along with forests and oceans.

 
Peatlands, which only cover three per cent of the planet’s land surface, store 30 per cent of land-based carbon. This is twice as much as all the world’s forests combined, according to the Ramsar Convention’s 
Global Wetland Outlook . 
 

Coastal and marine wetlands, including salt marshes, mangroves and sea grass beds are similarly critical carbon storage grounds.
 
World Wetland Day marks the creation of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands on 2nd February 1971.

With a large and growing number of countries marking the Day, it aims to raise awareness and to   highlight the important value of wetlands for people and the planet. Wetlands and Climate Change is the theme for World Wetlands Day.
 
At the 13th Conference in November 2018, Parties to the Ramsar Convention resolved on measures to protect, restore and sustainably manage peatlands and coastal ecosystems, acknowledging that these wetlands pull well above their weight in the climate change equation.
 
Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Martha Rojas Urrego said: “We are not powerless to tackle climate change in the little time we have.

‘The solutions are staring us in the face and wetlands are among them. But the world has to fully grasp wetlands’ relationship to climate change. We must start by ending the destruction and degradation of wetlands and restoring lost ones.

“The benefits of doing so are clear and multi-faceted. For example, by restoring 10,000 of 45,000 hectares of lost mangrove forests, Senegal will store half a million tons of CO over 20 years.

“The task facing the world is colossal but not insurmountable. Where there is a will, there is a way. With wetlands, we have a way to save our planet,” Urrego added.

The Paris climate agreement recognizes the role wetlands play in limiting the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Yet wetlands are being lost three times faster than forests.

Approximately 35 per cent of the world’s wetlands disappeared between 1970 and 2015 due to changes in land use, urban growth, increased agriculture, as well as water diversion from wetlands and infrastructure development.
 
Wetland loss turns a natural carbon sink into a source of emissions that adds to global warming. Annual emissions of carbon dioxide (CO), the most significant greenhouse gas, grew by about 80 per cent in between 1970 and 2004.  

Currently, CO emissions from drained or burned peatlands amount to 10 per cent of all annual fossil fuel emissions.

 
Wetlands are not only critical to carbon storage, they are also instrumental in mitigating, adapting to and building resilience to the impacts of natural disasters. When disaster strikes, it usually manifests itself through water.

Floods, landslides, tsunamis, storms, heat waves, droughts are all becoming more frequent and more intense.

According to the World Meteorological Organization they have doubled in 35 years.
 
Coastal wetlands, including mangroves and coral reefs, absorb the shock and reduce the impact of storm surges and tsunamis on coastal communities. Healthy coral reefs – an estimated 90 per cent of which will die off with a global warming of 1.5C – provide double the protection of dead reefs.
 
Inland wetlands are a natural sponge, absorbing rain, reducing flooding and delaying the onset of droughts by storing excess water.

The world’s largest mangrove reforestation programme will also buffer 200,000 people against storms and strengthen food security through increased rice and fish production.
 
Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden’s intensive restoration of the Nordic-Baltic peatlands is part of their efforts to regulate climate change.

The draining of 45 per cent of these peatlands is responsible for almost 25 per cent of the region’s annual CO emissions.

 
In Asia, the storm protection benefits of mangroves in southern Thailand have been valued at USD10,821 per hectare. Mangroves are being restored along the Krabi River Estuary to protect the coastal communities against tropical storms, while Indonesia has committed to restoring two million hectares of peatlands in response to devastating fires in 2015-2016 caused by drought and the draining of peatlands.
 
Initiatives such as these and others are needed on a far greater scale across the world.

Every effort to jointly protect, restore and wisely use all wetlands from now on will matter with each effort multiplying progress towards limiting global warming to below 2C.
 
Those efforts will be greatly amplified through including wetlands and the multiple benefits they provide in national policies that address climate change and ensuring the finance is in place for wetland conservation.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has 170 Contracting Parties who are committed to conserve and wisely use all wetlands; designate and conserve at least one Wetland of International Importance or Ramsar Sites; cooperate across national boundaries on transboundary wetlands, shared systems and species, and report on any adverse human-induced changes to a Ramsar Site and act to restore it to its former state.
 
There are currently 2,336 Ramsar Sites in the world.
 
At the 13th Conference in November 2018, Parties to the Ramsar Convention resolved on measures to protect, restore and sustainably manage peatlands and coastal ecosystems, acknowledging that these wetlands pull well above their weight in the climate change equation.

 

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