Coastal wetlands in Oristano (Sardinia, Italy). Photo: © MedWet
Earth Day 2020: Wetlands, Earth’s Key to Fighting Climate Change
By the MedWet Initiative
Since 1970, Earth Day has created a symbolic opportunity for all of us to remember how important it is to make sure we take care of the planet and its resources.
The 2020 edition will focus on climate action. Climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable.
The increase in the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, resulting from human activities, has already caused significant damage to our environment. Global warming and extreme climate events are today the most worrying challenge facing the planet and humans.
At this moment, countries are racing against time to find strategies to cope with the climate crisis. Among them, wetlands bring unique opportunities that are cheaper than any human-made solutions.
“We are not powerless to tackle climate change in the little time we have. The solutions are staring us in the face and wetlands are among them. But the world has to fully grasp wetlands’ relationship to climate change”, said Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
Wetlands are crucial to fight climate change. But how much do we really know about their roles?
Wetlands are a powerful ally against climate change and related disaster risks. Coastal and marine wetlands, such as salt marshes, mangroves, and seagrasses, are vital carbon sinks. According to the Global Wetland Outlook of Ramsar Convention, peatlands are estimated to store 30% of land-based carbon which is twice as much as all the world’s forests combined. Therefore, their destruction would transform them from natural carbon stores to sources of significant amounts emissions that contribute to the global warming.
Wetlands are also fundamentally important to increase the resilience of communities to natural hazards and help to minimise the damages they cause. When catastrophes occur, mangroves and coral reefs reduce the impact of severe storm surges and tsunamis hitting the coasts. They protect against flooding and serve as a barrier against saltwater intrusion and erosion. During heavy rains, inland wetlands, such as floodplains, lakes and peatlands, absorb and store excess rainfall, reducing flooding and delaying the onset of drought.
Effective natural solutions…but threatened
Despite their important role, wetlands are highly threatened ecosystems. 48% of them have disappeared from the Mediterranean basin since 1970, while the average global loss is around 35%.
This loss is mainly due to human activities including water extraction for agriculture, urban growth, filling for residential and industrial development, and in many cases they are even used as dumps. As a result, the capacity of wetlands to regulate flood events has decreased by 20% in some Mediterranean countries in the past 30 years (1987-2016), according to the report “Mediterranean Wetlands Outlook 2 (MWO2)”.
“Wetlands keep suffering too often from their image of dirty muddy place full of mosquitos, when they are actually one of the richest habitats of the planet, in terms of biodiversity and the services they provide to humans. This is why, we have launched the ‘Off Your Map’ campaign, to help raise citizens’ and decision makers’ knowledge about these crucial ecosystems. We urgently need to stop destroying habitats that can actually help us face the climate crisis”, said Alessio Satta, MedWet Coordinator.