Wetlands are part of the carbon cycle – don’t destroy them

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What is it about?

Wetlands have a key role to play in the carbon cycle and thus in climate change mitigation, as well in helping people to adapt to climate change. Peatlands cover only 3-4% of global land area but are recognized as an important carbon sink holding 25-30% of the carbon in terrestrial ecosystems, twice as much as the world’s forests; their drainage and conversion to other uses is an important source of emissions. There is increasing evidence that other wetlands – such as mangroves and saltmarshes – also act as important carbon sinks.

What the Convention does

Ramsar’s Resolution on Climate Change and Wetlands provides ample information on the potential impact on wetlands and a whole range of adaptation and mitigation options for wetland ecosystems. With the Danone Fund for Nature partnership with the Danone Group and IUCN, Ramsar has developed a mechanism for financing delivery of carbon offsets to reduce or offset greenhouse gas emissions through wetland restoration projects. This new methodology is in line with the principles and practices of the Ramsar Convention and is a valuable tool for the restoration of peatlands, mangroves, and possibly other wetlands.

What needs to be done next?

Maintaining intact wetlands that can store a lot of carbon is essential – as is the restoration of degraded wetlands, especially those that act as carbon sinks and those that can help people in adapting to climate change.

What’s new? Restoring wetlands to reinstate their carbon storage

Mitigating climate change is not just about forests – many wetlands also process, capture (sequester) and store large amounts of carbon, much of it (unlike forests) being stored below the ground in soil and sediments. For some such as peatlands it’s a balance between capture and release; for others, notably coastal mangroves and vegetated saltmarshes, once the carbon is locked into the soil it stays there long-term. This carbon storage role provides a strong incentive to keep our remaining wetlands in a healthy state, since degrading or destroying them releases their stored carbon into the atmosphere.

But we have already damaged and destroyed many of our wetlands, so there is also increasing emphasis on restoring wetlands to reinstate their carbon storage, and use such restoration in markets for carbon offsets. This, especially for mangroves, has been the focus of the Danone Fund for Nature (DFN), a Ramsar, IUCN and Danone Group initiative begun in 2008. A 2009 expert workshop set out the approaches and key issues to consider in achieving carbon offsets through wetland restoration [Download the Report here], and stressed that any such restoration must include delivering socio-economic co-benefits to people from the full range of ecosystem services delivered by such wetlands.

Afforestation and reforestation of degraded mangrove habitats

Developed through the DFN, a first large-scale methodology for restoration (afforestation and reforestation) of mangroves was approved in 2011 by the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Download the methodology here [PDF].

“Destruction and degradation of coastal habitats releases huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and destroys livelihoods,” says Prof Nicholas Davidson, Deputy Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. “Well-planned and implemented restoration and management of these vital ecosystems delivers very tangible benefits to local communities in tropical countries, and increases the systems’ capacity to store carbon.”

Bringing Life Back to the Bogs, RSPB Style

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Scotland has produced a new leaflet “Bringing Life Back to the Bogs” [PDF] which summarises the extensive peatland restoration work at the Forsinard Flows nature reserve in the Flow Country, the world’s largest blanket bog. They also have a new policy report “Realising the Benefits of Peatlands: Overcoming policy barriers to peatland restoration”. [PDF]

At a time of global environmental concern about climate change and the loss of biodiversity, the huge significance of peatlands has been widely acknowledged. The RSPB has long been a champion of peatlands and at the heart of their work in the UK has been the massive conservation undertaking in the Flow Country. RSPB work at Forsinard showcases the amazing wildlife spectacle these peatlands offer and demonstrates the wider benefits of biodiversity conservation for key services such as carbon storage. 

To download the leaflet and the full report, or for more information on our peatland work please visit the RPSB website: www.rspb.org.uk/

Also see the information on the Ramsar Site Caithness & Sutherland Peatlands in The United Kingdom, here.

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
International Importance
2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,247

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