© 2017 The Ramsar Convention Secretariat
Did you know that despite covering only 3% of the land surface, peatlands, a form of wetlands, store twice as much CO2 as all the world's forests combined (Crump 2017)? Still, the world has lost more than half of its wetlands in the past 100 years, mainly due to agricultural use, drainage, and infrastructure developments (UN-Water 2018). Nevertheless, peatlands & co are truly multi-talented and, in addition to their role for the global climate, make a major contribution to biodiversity and our human well-being.
What are Wetlands anyways? The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (2014) broadly defines them as “any land area that is saturated or flooded with water, either seasonally or permanently. Wetlands can be either inland, such as lakes, aquifers and marshes, or coastal, as mangroves, estuaries and coral reefs”. But what characterizes wetlands above all is their ability to absorb and store CO2. Wetland plants remove CO2 from the atmosphere and incorporate it into their biomass. When they die, carbon-rich wet plant material accumulates on the ground of wetlands. Unable to decompose the absorbed carbon in plants is stored for a long time.
1) Why do we need wetlands for our climate?
- Ecosystem-based Mitigation (EbM): Depending on how wetlands are managed, they can be both important sinks and significant sources of greenhouse gases. Many intact wetlands absorb and store large amounts of carbon but require constant water saturation to do so. When they are drained, either for economic purposes or due to poor water resource management, greenhouse gas emissions are likely to rise. In this way, degraded peatlands emit more CO2 equivalents annually than the global aviation industry.
- Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA): At the same time, healthy wetlands help us adapt to the impacts of climate change. They can act as sponges that flexibly store water resources and mitigate the magnitude of extreme weather events.
2) What do wetlands do for biodiversity?
- Wetlands are indispensable habitats and are among the most productive ecosystems on Earth due to the high diversity and concentration of flora and fauna. Even though 40% of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands, they are disappearing three times faster than forests due to human activities and global warming (Ramsar 2018).
3) How do wetlands affect our human well-being?
- Wetlands provide us with clean drinking water by absorbing nutrients and pollutants and by helping to recharge aquifers.
- Wetlands provide us with rice (20% of the world's food) and fish (Ramsar, 2017).
- The livelihoods of 660 million people depend on fishing and aquaculture from wetlands (Ramsar, 2017). Degraded wetlands are a potential breeding ground for disease-spreading insects and thus ought to be managed adequately to retain their function of pest prevention.
How can we protect and restore wetlands?
- Sustainable and integrated water resource management.
- Sustainable use of intact wetlands e.g. to produce energetic biomass or innovative building materials (paludiculture). This provides alternatives for fossil raw materials and promotes the ecosystem services of wetlands, which usually generate higher economic value than their unsustainable exploitation. Additionally, it is more cost-effective to avoid wetland loss than to restore degraded wetlands.
- In addition to economic approaches, wetlands can also be protected by designating them as sites of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. And by using the hashtag #RestoreWetlands to highlight the UN Decade to Restore Ecosystems.
One thing is certain: To meet climate goals, we need to rethink how we treat wetlands. You can raise awareness today, whether over coffee with Grandma, on Twitter, or on Instagram, by sharing these great facts with the world!
Stay healthy and hydrated!
Did you get bogged down by this article? Don’t hesitate to follow-up:
- Stop Floating, Start Swimming Water-Climate Report by GIZ, PIK and adelphi (2020)
- Wetlands - What can I do? More recommendation on how to protect wetlands
- Water, Wetlands and Life
- UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration