Setting global targets would drive investment needed to scale up wetland recovery for climate action

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Valuing the socio-economic capital of wetlands, making them part of countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions and setting global targets will help drive the investment needed to increase the pace and scale of wetland recovery for climate action.

This was the conclusion of discussion at a breakout session, ‘Scaling up the Power of Wetlands for Ambitious Climate Action‘, led by Wetlands International as part of ‘Protecting people and restoring water resources and ecosystems’ during the UNFCCC Race to Zero Dialogues Water Day, organised by SIWI.

Discussion between panelists – Boskalis’ Theo Baartmans; Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Peul Mbororo Indigenous Women and Peoples Association of Chad; Caroline van Tilborg, HSBC Pollination Climate Asset Management; Sirak Temesgen, Netherlands Red Cross and Bianca Nijhof of the Netherlands Water Partnership, led Wetlands International CEO, Jane Madgwick – set out the need for widespread understanding of healthy wetlands as vital to water availability and as “critical infrastructure” to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The panel then discussed what it will take to make global scale wetland restoration a reality.

On the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, 12 December, marked by the Climate Summit, more ambitious climate action is required to keep us within the threshold of 2˚C of global warming. With emissions from the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector contributing around 20-24 percent of global GHG emissions (second only to energy), countries are looking to change how they use and manage land and water to achieve the deeper emission cuts needed for enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Safeguarding and restoring wetlands can deliver a “triple-win’: reducing existing carbon emissions, avoiding future ones, and building the resilience of ecosystem services that can support communities at a time when global health and livelihoods are under pressure. Yet, this value is not fully recognised and is a major barrier to their uptake as a climate action strategy that can enhance ambition across sectors and conventions.

Even if emissions are reduced, the resilience of the most vulnerable people will still depend on putting back wetlands in good condition in the landscape to reduce the water hazards and disasters, posed session chair Ms. Madgwick.

The shrinking availability of water and impact on resource availability in places like Chad contributes to the fragility of the Sahel region, according to Ms. Ibrahim. Inclusion of water and wetlands in the NDCs is important but it’s equally important to include the link to conflict. Those communities themselves are key to joined-up land and water management. Bringing in the local and indigenous people’s knowledge is vital to transforming the landscape, she said.

In Ethiopia, resilience is also a core issue, with disasters linked to environmental degradation, Mr. Temesgen said. The use of water and shrinking of wetlands is impacting daily lives there too. Most of the big disasters in Ethiopia in one way or another linked to severe ecosystem degradations (including some of the conflicts) – for countries like Ethiopia eco-diversity is not only human survivability but also human security issue.  But, there are examples, such as in Amhara regional state, where communities have been involved in analysing risks and developing nature-based solutions, that show a way forward.

This increasing risk is starting to be taken seriously by national credit rating agencies, pointed out Ms Van Tilborg. Countries need to put in place sufficient prevention measures like wetland safeguarding or restoration to build resilience. The lack of upfront financing and the pending uncertainties under the Paris Agreement (art 6) is a major barrier to landscape finance, but carbon finance can be a bridge. For this to happen, NDCs need to include wetlands, and be detailed about how they contribute to mitigation and adaptation. Projects that generate carbon compliant with Article 6 can expect higher prices on the international carbon market, she said, especially if combined with community and biodiversity benefits.

The business case is not only required to get the necessary attention of the business community but moreover from global financial institutions and monetary authorities, according to Mr. Baartmans. Global targets on wetlands recovery and safeguarding will help strengthen the case.

The low recognition of the value of wetlands for nature and communities stems from both narrow definitions in financial value – and our distance from nature, argued Ms. Nijhof. If we create benefits for people and nature, then we go farther than carbon credits. There needs to be a holistic approach.

Wetlands allow for vital social aspects, and should be at the centre of work on mitigation and adaptation, said UNFCCC high-level climate champion Nigel Topping in his closing remarks on the day, acknowledging the importance of wetlands as nature-based solutions.

The November Dialogues marked the beginning of the Marrakech Partnership journey to the UNFCCC COP26. SIWI, together with Global Climate Action partners and the High Level Champions team, are finalising the Climate Action Pathway for Water, outlining the Water community’s vision and goals for reaching a net-zero, resilient future. The pathways, developed the Marrakech Partnership, provide an overview of the transformational actions and milestones needed and are expected to include targets on wetland safeguarding and restoration.

Scaling up the Power of Wetlands for Ambitious Climate Action Key Messages

  • Healthy, biodiverse and resilient wetlands, which store and regulate water, are “critical infrastructure” to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
  • Even if emissions are reduced, the most vulnerable people will still face water hazards and disasters. Extensive wetland recovery is needed as part of climate action to combat land degradation.
  • Safeguard and recover wetlands to deliver a “triple-win’: reduce and avoid carbon emissions and build the resilience of vulnerable communities, benefitting human health and livelihoods.
  • Encourage and enable countries to report anthropogenic emissions from degraded wetland ecosystems so they can include restoration activities and claim reduction in subsequent reporting.
  • Enable a dramatic increase in the pace and scale of wetland landscape recovery as a climate solution by setting targets, catalysing diverse partnerships between business, government and civil society, to bring and value returns for nature alongside the local economy and human well-being.