Guest Article #83

Climate Change and Wetlands: Implications for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

Following intensive deliberations in Bucharest, Romania, in July 2012, the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands adopted Resolution XI.14 on Climate Change and Wetlands, acknowledging the significance of climate change for the ecosystem services that wetlands can deliver to human societies. This is the third Ramsar Resolution that affirms the potential implications of climate change for the conservation and wise use of wetlands, and it reiterates the commitment of Contracting Parties to addressing all issues affecting the maintenance and wise use of the values that wetlands provide to people.

The new Resolution expresses the determination of Ramsar Contracting Parties to raise awareness about the importance of wetland management in addressing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Parties are committed to taking action, and encouraging others to do so, to obtain real achievements through international and national climate change response strategies and mechanisms. It makes a clear call for improved communication about the current and potential climate change mitigation provided by healthy wetlands.

Existing knowledge and promising responsiveness

It is encouraging to note various achievements, opportunities and prospects through many actions by the international community, all of which recognize wetland ecosystems as assets that help regulate climate change by storing and capturing carbon:

1)            the adoption of a new voluntary accounting activity ‘Wetland Drainage and Rewetting' for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol by which Annex I Parties to the Kyoto Protocol can account for anthropogenic GHG emissions by sources and removals by sinks resulting from wetland drainage and rewetting (UNFCCC Decision 2/CMP.7);

2)            the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS)-approved Peatland Rewetting and Conservation (PRC) under the VCS Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) programme for crediting climate benefits from all wetland areas, including mangroves, freshwater tidal coastal wetlands, salt marshes, sea grasses, floodplains, peatlands and potentially other land areas;

3)            the newly-revised Strategic Framework and guidelines for the future development of the List of Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Resolution XI.8, Annex 2, Objective 4.1), which encourages the use of Ramsar Sites and other natural wetlands as baseline and reference areas for monitoring to detect trends in climate change, among other things;

4)            the increased understanding of the role that the designation and effective management of Ramsar Sites can play in adaptation and resilience to climate change, and the fact that both forested and non-forested wetlands included in the Ramsar Classification System for Wetland Type play a role in carbon sequestration and storage;

5)            the continuing progress made by the Ramsar Convention, as outlined in Resolution XI.6 on Partnerships and synergies with Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and other institutions, in expanding cooperation with other MEAs and other institutions so that the expertise and advice available from the Ramsar Convention can be drawn upon to support all such other bodies in addressing issues affecting the conservation and wise use of wetlands;

6)            the establishment by the Danone Group, IUCN, and the Ramsar Convention, at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP10), of the “Danone Fund for Nature” (DFN) initiative to develop a programme for restoring wetlands, especially mangroves, for carbon storage, and the progress made by this initiative since that time, including the development of a methodology for the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the UNFCCC for the “Afforestation and reforestation of degraded tidal forest habitats” (ARNM0038); and

7)            the increasing appreciation among decision makers and the public of the enormous importance of wetlands in delivering a wide range of services, including climate change and mitigation, biodiversity conservation, energy production, water supply, agriculture and food security, economic development, and protection from natural disasters.

Further motivation for future actions

Wetlands continue to be lost as a consequence of human actions, despite the fact that they provide a wide range of ecosystem services that contribute to human well-being and, in particular, that some wetland types deliver services that are extremely important for climate change adaptation – by acting as natural infrastructure to reduce risks from severe water-related events such as storms, flooding, drought, coastline erosion, and the intrusion of saltwater into freshwater systems.

Many public and private organizations continue to pay too little attention to the fact that long-lasting degradation and loss of some types of wetlands cause the release of large amounts of stored carbon and thus exacerbate the rate of climate change. Indeed, methane and nitrous oxide, emitted as part of the nitrogen cycle during de-nitrification in wetlands, has been recognized by UNFCCC as an important consideration for GHG fluxes regarding climate change mitigation.

On the other hand, however, wetlands provide several other services that are just as important for responding to climate change effects, such as by regulating water cycles, thereby providing, for example, benefits in terms of coping with sea level rise, including coastal storm protection and the protection of surface and ground water from saltwater intrusion.

Nevertheless, scientific reports indicate that degradation and loss of many types of wetlands is occurring more rapidly than in other ecosystems and that climate change is likely to exacerbate this trend, which will further reduce the mitigation and adaptation capacity of wetlands. Since the conservation and wise use of wetlands have the potential to slow or halt this degradation, the designation of Ramsar Sites, together with their effective management, as well as that of other wetlands, can in some regions play a vital role in carbon sequestration and storage, and therefore in the mitigation of climate change.

The Ramsar Contracting Parties have the opportunity to draw attention to the importance of wetlands in the ongoing discussions under the UNFCCC on issues relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries (REDD+).

Accordingly, the Ramsar Parties have requested the Convention's Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP), through Resolution X.24, to continue to address wetlands and climate change issues, including on:

i)             methods for assessing the vulnerability of different wetland types to climate change;

ii)            opportunities for adaptation to climate change;

iii)           wetland restoration as a tool for climate responses;

iv)           the role and importance of different wetland types in the global carbon cycle; and

v)            recent key messages and recommendations concerning wetlands, water and climate change from relevant intergovernmental and international processes and initiatives, and this work is ongoing.

Conclusions

It is encouraging to note that Ramsar Contracting Parties recognize that integrative policies and planning measures for the wise use of wetlands need to be encouraged in order to address the influence of global climate change on the interdependencies among wetlands, water management, agriculture, energy production, poverty reduction, and human health.

In this regard, Resolution XI.14 on Climate Change and Wetlands expresses the Parties' commitment to develop and implement policies that take advantage of the regulatory services already provided by wetlands to the global climate system, while contributing to improving human livelihoods, eradicating poverty, and meeting biodiversity goals, including the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

The Resolution also encourages Contracting Parties and their representatives to reach out to their counterparts in the UNFCCC and its subsidiary bodies in order to foster greater information exchange on the actual and potential roles of wetland conservation, management, and restoration activities in implementing strategies for mitigating GHG emissions through enhancing carbon sequestration and storage in wetlands.

Wetlands are very near the centre of all questions of the impacts of climate change and of potential responses to them. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is continuing to live up to its commitment to helping to find the best answers to those questions.