Infographic: How wetlands can help fight climate change | New infographics
Wetlands – lands made up of swamps or marshes – have, over the centuries, been demonized as places of pestilence, drained for agriculture or urban development, and polluted or paved over.
But today, they appear as crucial ecosystems in the fight against climate change.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body tasked with assessing climate-related science, has warned of the need for continued efforts to limit the increase in temperature 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
The world’s wetlands, including marshes, bogs, floodplains and coastal areas, are considered essential to achieving this goal – even though more than 35% of this wide variety of habitats have disappeared since 1970.
Long-term carbon sequestration rates in wetlands are up to 55 times more efficient than tropical rainforests. “Blue carbon” captured by living organisms in coastal and marine ecosystems and stored in biomass and sediments has been recognized by the IPCC as having a dual role in climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Peatlands, for example, cover only 3% of the Earth’s land surface, but store 30% of all terrestrial carbon. To meet the 1.5°C climate targets of the Paris Agreement, the IPCC says conversion and drainage must be prevented and that 50% of all lost peatlands must be restored by 2030.
Stored carbon is stable and can remain for hundreds or thousands of years if undisturbed, but if these environments are degraded or converted they can become a significant source of greenhouse gases.
On February 2, 1971, representatives from 18 nations met in Ramsar, Iran, and adopted the Convention on Wetlands, also known as “the Ramsar Convention”.
“Wetland loss rates always exceed terrestrial ecosystem loss rates,” Jerker Tamelander, director of science and policy at the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands secretariat, told Al Jazeera.
But “the change in the way the world views wetlands is partly the result of the work done under the convention”, including its scientific and technical review committee and the way countries have responded to the data. that he collected.
The treaty now has 172 signatories and February 2 is marked globally as World Wetlands Day. This year, it is observed as an international day of the United Nations, following its adoption by the General Assembly on August 30, 2021.
“Now you have this universal recognition that comes from a General Assembly resolution that calls on UN agencies and other agencies to observe and act, so that’s a multiplier,” Tamelander said.
“It was very positive for us to see that more than 70 countries co-sponsored the resolution.”
What has changed in global consciousness, according to Tamelander, is the setting of climate goals, including the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly, aimed at achieving a “better and more sustainable for all” by 2030.
“To achieve them, we need to pay particular attention to wetlands,” he said.
Although wetlands still cover a global area of 1.2 billion hectares (2.96 billion acres) – larger than Canada – the quality of the remaining wetlands suffers due to drainage, pollution, invasive species, unsustainable use, disrupted flow regimes and climate change.
According to the findings of the Ramsar Convention, land-use change has been the main driver of inland wetland degradation since 1970, driven by population growth and, conversely, by the growing need for agricultural land.
Wetlands are estimated to provide health, food and water security benefits to four billion people around the world by supporting agriculture as a source of water for crops and livestock, according to the Global Wetland Outlook, published by Ramsar in 2021. In addition, it plays a role in disaster risk reduction, such as droughts and floods.
The coronavirus pandemic has also brought the links between the environment and health to the fore. The degradation of these fragile ecosystems is likely to stimulate wildlife trafficking, increasing the risks of disease emergence and transmission, since Ramsar has estimated that 40 percent of species depend on wetlands.
Transformative action is needed to reverse the trend of wetland loss and degradation, according to Ramsar.
“Agriculture depends a lot on water, you need wetlands for agriculture,” Tamelander said. “So agricultural finance for wetland protection is a good agricultural investment. This is what we should pursue as much as possible.