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Wetlands and nature take centre stage at Glasgow climate talks

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  • Climate and disaster risks

Growing realisation that without enabling nature to recover, including wetlands, there is no 1.5C future

COP26  was  very  much  the Nature COP  

With nature and water firmly in the COP26 agenda, nature’s role on the path to 1.5°C was given space in dialogues and pledges like never before. Greater attention to natural climate solutions has been stimulated by scientific insights revealing that stewardship and restoration of forests and wetlands, plus a shift to regenerative agriculture can provide around 30% of the climate change mitigation needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. 92% of countries’ new climate action plans now include measures to tackle nature loss; an encouraging sign that more countries are listening to the science and recognising the crucial role of nature must play to address the global climate crisis. 

We saw commitments and financing for forests and oceans; incentivising protection and disincentivising degradation. Major announcements by world leaders early during COP26 saw agreements to halt and reverse deforestation, which could mean more finance dedicated towards accelerating the shift to lowering CO2 in a way which is nature-positive and helps build a climate resilient future for people everywhere. 

For the first time, nature made it into a UN climate pact. The Glasgow Climate Pact emphasised “the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems to achieve the Paris Agreement temperature goal, including through forests and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and by protecting biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards.” 

…But what about wetlands? 

We entered the climate conference knowing that we needed to make sure that wetlands aren’t being ignored in any action to limit climate change and to help people adapt to the storms, fires, droughts, floods and loss of livelihoods that come with the global climate emergency. We knew we needed to raise the alarm that wetland loss, poor water management and damaging water infrastructure is likely to continue if we don’t have political will and private intervention for change. Raising the banner of wetlands doesn’t end with COP. We need all hands on deck as we continue to push for wetland targets in climate action within global and domestic agreements, conventions, and in NDCs and NAPs. 

That being said, wetlands gained more recognition during the COP26; especially on the need work together to safeguard and restore carbon-saturated peatlands and coastal wetlands like mangroves and sea-grass beds alongside forests. This is encouraging, however, the lack of specific commitments and targets for safeguarding and restoring wetlands, including freshwater ones, which are under the greatest threat, leaves them vulnerable to further degradation, with negative consequences for mitigation and adaptation.  

Our op-ed published by Al Jazeera ahead of COP26 raised the importance of wetlands and set the tone going into the two weeks in Glasgow. To underline this during this during the COP, Jane Madgwick, CEO of Wetlands International, was part of a live news segment on Al-Jazeera, as well as seizing the social media space with a Facebook Live to talk about the value of wetlands. 

Watch Jane reflect on her time at COP26. 

Peatlands as key to tackling the climate crisis 

Peatlands proved to be a hot topic at COP26. They were spotlighted as carbon megastores with the recognition that peatlands must be included in countries’ NDCs. Protecting peatlands was also crucial to President Joe Biden’s forest conservation plan announced in Glasgow. As our wetlands International peatlands expert, Hans Schutten, told Bloomberg: “The world is recognising the huge urgency to take action against peatland damage now. We hope it’s more than just words”  

The need to safeguard remaining intact peatlands and restore 50 million hectares of peatland by 2050 to reach net zero emissions  – 50 by 50  is a daunting goalIt means that it is urgent to unlock public and private finance. Going forward, Wetlands International intends to play a bigger role, working with governments, companies and communities in guiding landscape recovery and in helping to channel financial flows to restore peatlands at scale. 

At COP26, Wetlands International co-organised the first-ever Peatland Pavilion, which shone a light on peatlands and positioned us as a key player with a proven track record of their protection and rehabilitation; significant in a country where peatlands play a crucial role in Scottish biodiversity. The pavilion brought people together to underscore the urgency of safeguarding and restoring peatlands for climate, people and nature. We shared field evidence and best-practices together with many governments and companies on how we can collaborate to recover the world’s peatlands.  

We were very encouraged by the interest shown by countries and states across the world  from Peru, Panama, Suriname and Costa Rica in Latin American countries, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Iceland, Germany and Russia in Europe; India and Indonesia in Asia and the DRC in Africa. Canada, which has enormous peatland wealth, committed to increase protection and restoration at home and to support other regions in stepping up peatland action. Everyone recognised the importance of indigenous and local communities being at the heart of efforts to better manage peatlands. For many, the social and rural economy that come with caring for peatlands are important policy drivers. 

More focus on water at COP26  

Wetlands International contributed to organise the first-ever Water Pavilion which helped raise the need for better water management in tackling climate change.  Continuing our long-standing participation in the Marrakech Partnership of non-state actors, we emphasised the critical role of wetlands in contributing to resilient water management in NDCs and other national climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives.  

Many examples presented in the Water Action Day illustrated how better-managed wetlands contribute to water security and climate resiliency, and of how continuing wetland loss is exacerbating the impacts of droughts, fires and floods. Challenges were discussed; such as needing to overcome the siloing of water management amongst various responsible institutions (i.e. Water Resources Management and WASH services) to be more effective in climate action. Challenges like this will surely be revisited during the next COP in Egypt where water insecurity is a major issue.  

There are an increasing number of major initiatives trying to raise awareness of, and divert investment towards climate-water related issues. For example, the Resilient Water Accelerator which presents opportunities for us going forward. Tools, such as the Water Tracker for National Climate Planning, profiled in Glasgow, will help countries enhance water resilience in national climate plans and bring water more centrally into NDCs. 

Unlocking public and private finance, through voluntary carbon markets 

Real action on climate must include unlocking public and private finance in an inclusive way which benefits nature and local communities. The overall mood at COP26 was an eagerness to make it happen and a willingness to join forces to do so; including through mobilising the vast public and private finance that will be needed. COP26 signals a new beginning in the need to invest in natural climate solutions as a core part of climate action. An Article 6 rulebook agreement – which was subject to intense negotiations at this COP – can be a positive step that will activate the necessary finance needed to protect nature and benefit those on the frontlines of the climate emergency while keeping global heating to below 1.5°C, as agreed in Paris. 

With voluntary private finance involved, greenwashing is a real concern. This is why it’s up to all actors to be vigilant in ensuring environmental integrity and human equity in offset schemes. This is about making sure they are only embedded in high-quality projects that deliver real climate, community and biodiversity benefits which are held to the highest standards. We need to see companies steeply reducing and mitigating emissions and offsetting of residual emissions on a pathway to net-zero by 2050. Much more clarity is needed on the latter and we welcome the High-Level Climate Champions’ announcement to address this.  

Connecting the climate and biodiversity agendas 

Climate change is helping drive unprecedented nature loss. And we cannot enable resiliency to even a 1.5 degree temperature rise without ensuring that Earth’s natural systems are in better health. Because of their crucial role in the carbon and water cycles, it is imperative to step up efforts to improve the condition of wetlands worldwide, which means reducing climate risks, enhancing community resilience and recovering biodiversity. Whole landscape or basin scale initiatives, that foster inter-sectoral and transboundary collaboration for the long-term, offer the opportunity to join actions for climate, biodiversity and sustainable development. It was encouraging to learn of many bold initiatives of this kind and to encounter a growing number of organisations and donors willing to engage in enabling large-scale, long-term collaborative actions of this nature. In this way, climate justice can be achieved, through the communities most vulnerable to climate impacts taking up a lead role in design and implementation 

Looking ahead, the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity COP offers another excellent opportunity to forge these synergies.

More details  

Our closing press release is here. 

More details on Wetlands International sessions at COP26 are available here. 

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