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Wetlands and the global climate change policy context

Wetlands and the global climate change policy context

By Lea Appulo, Wetlands International

Around 64% of wetlands have been lost since 1900 through drainage and conversion, and much of those that remain are under growing pressure from economic and infrastructure development. We need landscape scale and system approaches that take full account of wetland interactions and the full range of benefits these provide to society and nature.

Global policy frameworks acknowledge this and give countries the responsibility to mainstream the protection and restoration of wetlands or freshwater systems and their services as a vital strategy for a sustainable and secure world. The year 2015 was important due to the adoption of three major global policy agreements related to wetlands and climate change:

  1. March 2015: the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR)
    The SFDRR is a 15-year, voluntary, non-binding agreement aiming to “the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.”
    In the SFDRR, poor land management, unsustainable use of natural resources and degrading ecosystems are highlighted as underlying drivers of disaster risk. If managed wisely, ecosystems – like wetlands – can act as natural infrastructure or buffers against hazards and reduce their impact, including loss of lives, assets, livelihoods and damage to critical infrastructure and basic services. Therefore, countries are explicitly encouraged to strengthen the sustainable use and management of ecosystems for building resilience to disasters. Read more »
  2. October 2015: the UN 2030 Agenda and SDGs
    This agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It is composed of 17 Sustainable Development Goals with 169 associated targets. Member States committed themselves to working for the full implementation of this agenda by 2030.
    Safeguarding and restoring wetland ecosystems will for instance help to improve food production and increase adaptive capacity to climate risks. It will reduce drought downstream. Incorporating wetlands in urban planning can reduce water risks and safeguard valuable wetland services. Restoring coastal wetlands can increase communities’ resilience and counteract erosion. So, investments in wetlands are needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Read more »
  3. December 2015: the Paris Agreement
    On 4 November 2016 the Paris Agreement entered into force. By ratifying the agreement, Parties are committing to submit nationally determined contributions, outlining their actions and their strategies to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts. Under the Paris Agreement climate change mitigation and adaptation actions include prevention of ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss. It recognizes the role of ecosystems to regulate hydrological processes to better adapt to the impacts of climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources, to build resilience of people and nature. Read more »

In order to reach the target of limiting the temperature increase to 1,5°C, it is of utmost importance to protect, restore and wisely manage wetland ecosystems. Wetlands are unique in their capability to store and capture large amounts of carbon. The conversion of natural wetland ecosystems leads to strong positive radiative forcing, thereby contributing to increases in the earth’s temperature¹. In particular GHG emissions from degraded peatlands represent circa 5% of the global total anthropogenic CO2 emissions². The EU is the second largest contributor of peatland emissions in the world, behind South-East Asia and ahead of the Russian Federation. These emissions can be effectively reduced by rewetting and restoring drained peatlands.

On 2 February 2017 the World Wetlands Day will focus on Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction to raise awareness and to highlight the vital roles of healthy wetlands in reducing the impacts of extreme events such as floods, droughts and cyclones on communities, and in helping to build resilience.

¹ Petrescu, A.M.R., et al (2015). The uncertain climate footprint of wetlands under human pressure.
² Joosten, H. (2009). The Global Peatland CO2 Picture. Peatland status and emissions in all countries of the world. Ede, Wetlands international.