Disappearing wetlands and climate change

Deforestation has long been noted as a driver of global warming.  Burning acres of tree cover to produce grazing land emits CO2 into the atmosphere. Simultaneously, those missing forests can no longer act as a reservoir to soak up CO2 emitted by energy production, transportation, and manufacturing.

wetlandsNow, a new report of the Ramsar Convention — the inaugural Global Wetland Outlook — concludes that wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests. Almost 87% of the world’s wetlands have been lost since 1700 with some 35% lost between 1970-2015 and the loss rate accelerating annually since 2000.

Why worry? Wetlands include salt marshes, sea grass beds, and mangroves, which are carbon-dense ecosystems. Peatlands store twice as much carbon as forests (despite occupying only 3% of the world’s land surface). Wetlands help reduce disaster risk by mitigating floods and protecting coastlines. And as go wetlands, so too go the species that live in them. Since 1970, wetland-dependent species declines have affected 81% of inland wetland species populations and 36% of coastal and marine species.

The Outlook highlights key steps in conserving healthy wetlands, including:

  • “enhancing the network of Ramsar Sites and other wetland protected areas; integrating magroveswetlands into planning and the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda;
  • strengthening legal and policy arrangements to conserve all wetlands;
  • implementing Ramsar guidance to achieve wise use;
  • applying economic and financial incentives for communities and businesses;
  • ensuring participation of all stakeholders in wetland management; and
  • improving national wetland inventories and tracking wetland extent.”

Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention, lauds the Global Wetland Outlook as “a wake-up call – not only on the steep rate of loss of the world’s wetlands but also on the critical services they provide. Without them, the global agenda on sustainable development will not be achieved.”