Wetlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change
Our planet’s climate is changing. In the past century, the global average temperature has risen by about 0.7 degrees Celsius. Power generation, deforestation, transport, agriculture and industry are some of the human activities that emit greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. If we are to avoid a dangerous increase in temperature, global greenhouse gas emissions, which are rising steadily, must decline rapidly.
“Wetlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change” is the theme and “Caring for Wetlands – an answer to Climate Change”, the slogan - both set by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands for World Wetlands Day 2010. It coincides with the UN designation of 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity. This is the right moment to focus on wetlands and their biodiversity, the impact of climate change on wetlands and what can be done. It also presents an opportunity to show how healthy wetlands can be part of strategies for mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Wetlands deliver a wide range of ecosystem services that contribute to human well-being, and some wetland types can contribute to climate change mitigation and/or adaptation. Peat-containing wetlands are particularly important for climate regulation. At least 30% of the world’s wetlands contain peat. These peatlands are vital because they are the most efficient terrestrial ecosystems in storing carbon, collectively containing 30% of all global soil carbon, nearly as much as the entire atmosphere. They can store carbon for thousands of years and as a result are called ‘carbon sinks’.
Through the years peatlands have been used for subsistence farming, grazing, biomass collection, medicinal uses and water collection. Their degradation is a major and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions from peatland drainage, fires and exploitation are estimated at 3 billion tons per annum, equivalent to more than 10% of global fossil fuel emissions. Peatland conservation and rehabilitation are effective ways to maintain the peatland carbon store, with additional benefits for biodiversity, environment and people. Because of the large emissions from degraded peatlands, rewetting and rehabilitating them is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Normally, peatlands store about 20% of all the world’s freshwater resources. One cubic metre of peat holds just under a cubic metre of water. Peatlands can act as sponges regulating the hydrology of downstream ecosystems and buffering against floods and droughts. It must be noted that peat is a non-renewable resource as it forms over long periods of time. A peatland can only return to its original state if it is left undisturbed for hundreds or thousands of years.
World Wetlands Day is held every year on the 2nd of February, offering an opportunity to be part of a global celebration of wetlands and their value for biodiversity and human well-being. In South Africa dozens of events are organised around the country, and one main national event involving key government departments and partners is held at a wetland where the year’s theme can be well illustrated.
The objectives of World Wetlands Day are therefore to:
• Draw attention to the importance of wetlands, their biodiversity and the ecosystem services on which humans depend, and how these are threatened by the likely impacts of climate change.
• Explore how wetland ecosystems are important for climate change mitigation.
• Discuss how wetland ecosystems are essential for climate change adaptation.
• Look at policies, planning and implementation related to climate change, at all levels from global to local, and how it recognizes and incorporates the role and importance of wetland ecosystems.
• Create ownership at all levels. Wetland management cuts across different departments, programmes, etc. These resources are ours, and we need to take care of what’s important to us.
Please download the World Wetlands Day 2010 poster (147 kb).
Please download the World Wetlands Day fact sheet (513 kb).