Protecting wetlands means protecting biodiversity

These areas, such as marshes and swamps, are among the most wildlife-rich ecosystems on the planet. Their shallow waters and abundant plant life support everything — from insects to ducks. They reduce the impact of floods and clean up polluted water and sequester carbon 55 times faster than tropical rainforests.

UNEP notes that between 1970 and 2015, about 35% of the world’s wetlands were lost. Also, depending on sea level rise as a result of the climate crisis, 20% to 90% of current coastal wetlands may disappear by the end of the century.

Migratory birds from Chilka Swamp, Mangalajodi village, Khurdha district, Odisha, India.

Invest to protect priority ecosystems

Despite the best efforts of many governments to protect and restore these natural areas, UNEP has highlighted the urgent need to restore wetlands.

“We must stop policies and subsidies that encourage deforestation and source-to-sea degradation of wetlands and promote their urgent restoration in line with the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration,” said Leticia Carvalho, head of UNEP’s Marine and Freshwater Division.

Ms Carvalho called for “managing and incentivising investments to protect priority ecosystems such as peatlands and encouraging the private sector to participate in supply chains without deforestation and peatland depletion”.

Aerial view of wetlands in China.

Aerial view of wetlands in China.

Back off the cliff

Currently, countries around the world are starting to restore their wetlands.

UNEP cites the development of sponge cities in China and the government-backed restoration of the Great Northern Marsh, an important carbon and water reservoir, in the UK as leading examples of wetland conservation initiatives.

Research shows that accelerated efforts to protect and restore wetlands are critical because the triple planetary crisis of climate change, loss of nature and biodiversity, as well as pollution and litter, exacerbates the effects of degraded wetlands, UNEP reports.

Adequate funding and political will are essential, however, the UN agency adds, “without investments in nature-based solutions, climate, biodiversity and land degradation goals will remain unattainable.” It will rapidly reach 384 billion dollars a year by 2025.

Dehydrating and degrading peatlands release large amounts of carbon dioxide and account for about 4% of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are missing opportunities to protect the services that wetlands provide that communities depend on for a sustainable future,” Ms Carvalho said.

“We must step up international solidarity, capacity building and funding without further delay,” he said.

Good news from Argentina

Last December, lawmakers in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego state passed a law to permanently protect the rugged Miter Peninsula.

This remote corner is home to underwater kelp forests and one of the largest peat swamp complexes in South America. Together, these two powerful ecosystems form the largest carbon sink in the country.

The creation of a new protected area roughly the size of the Grand Canyon National Park in the United States is an important step in the fight against the climate crisis, experts say.

The success in Argentina is somewhat good news for peatlands, which make up about half of the world’s inland vegetated wetlands.

According to the UNEP-supported Global Peatland Assessment, the Earth is losing 500,000 hectares of peatland every year, almost twice the size of Egypt’s sprawling capital, Cairo.

The draining and degradation of peatlands releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide and accounts for about 4% of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions, the UN Environment Agency warns.

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