At COP26, where are the wetlands?

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As the world watches delegates arrive at the UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow to prove their commitment to the Paris Agreement and keep global temperatures below 1.5°C — which must include the protection and rehabilitation of natural landscapes to trap and store carbon emissions — where are wetlands? 

Policymakers are focused on conserving and restoring forests to soak up carbon and for climate change mitigation, yet wetlands are the number one carbon sink and a powerful climate change impacts mitigator, and continue to be ignored in climate action plans. Wetlands must be a part countries’ NDCs and be included in any discussions on climate finance. 

“It’s astonishing to me that, although the science clearly demonstrates that wetlands are the best carbon sinks which protect billions of lives from climate change-exacerbated storms and droughts, they are still not central to policy discussions about tackling the climate crisis. Wetlands — including freshwaters, mangroves, and peatlands — provide a collective opportunity for the private and public sector to get the maths right in terms of keeping global heating below 1.5°C while adding resilience to the people most affected and least responsible for the climate crisis. Yet, wetlands are quietly being lost, faster than any other ecosystem, resulting in harmful impacts for people and nature,” said Jane Madgwick, CEO of Wetland International. 

“We urgently need to secure our water and wetlands with a globally unified approach which shares knowledge and resources and enables investments aligned with institutions and local communities who understand how to protect and restore these incredibly important and biodiverse areas, because they are our last, best natural defence against the climate change.” 

Key facts about wetlands in relation to the COP26: 

  • Wetlands hold some of the largest stores of carbon on the planet, but if disturbed or drained, they release carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. [1] 
  • 5% of global emissions come from draining and converting peatlands alone. [2] 
  • A typical hectare of mangrove holds more than a thousand tonnes of carbon, up to five times more than the same area of rainforest. [3]  
  • Mangroves are the most efficient carbon capture and storage systems on the planet. They currently store carbon that’s equivalent to over 21 billion tons of CO2. [3] 
  • IPCC outlines conservation of high-carbon ecosystems such as wetlands, including peatlands and mangroves, as mitigation response options with high impacts. [4] 
  • Wetlands climate adaptation benefits are also significant, from flood mitigation and prevention of erosion resulting from extreme rainfall events, to salinity control, biodiversity conservation and more. [5] 
  • Poor and most vulnerable people are disproportionately dependent on healthy wetlands. [6] 
  • Achievement of biodiversity targets, SDGs and climate commitments are strongly inter-related which provides a globally unified opportunity to address common drivers for a holistic response to both challenges. [6] 

Wetlands International is bringing hard evidence to the COP26, based on decades of experience and extensive scientific field work, that wetlands are a powerful and cost-effective solution to climate change. Wetlands International calls on countries to include wetlands as a focus in their NDCs to reap the reward of a ‘triple-win’: reduced carbon emissions, avoided future emissions and resilient, biodiverse land and water systems. All of this is needed as a basis for a healthy, prosperous society.   

Notes for editors 

For our general involvement and statements regarding the COP26, please see here.

For the latest information about the state of peatlands and our track record, see here

(Wetlands international is a co-organiser of the ‘Peatlands Pavilion’ at the COP venue)

[1] https://bwsr.state.mn.us/carbon-sequestration-wetlands 
[2] https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/peatlands-and-climate-change 
[3] New report shows slowdown in mangrove losses–providing a ‘last best chance’ for global action to protect coastal forests – Wetlands International 
[4] IPCC_AR6_WGI_Full_Report_smaller.pdf 
[5] https://www.jstor.org/stable/24818142 
[6] https://www.ramsar.org/sites/default/files/documents/library/wetlands_sdgs_e.pdf 

Wetlands International experts attending the conference will include: 

Jane Madgwick, CEO, for comment on wetlands, water, mitigation and adaptation, Article 6 and blue carbon

Femke Tonneijck, for comment on article 6 and carbon markets

Chris Baker for comment on wetlands and water 

Hans Schutten for comment on wetlands, peatlands mitigation and adaptation

To speak to any of our experts please contact:

(First week)
Arin de Hoog, comms officer, [email protected], +31 646 197 329 

(Second week)
Julien Anseau, comms and advocacy lead, [email protected]+65 9233 8270