What you need to know:
- Studies show 35 to 80 per cent of wetlands have been wiped out.
- Wetlands store over a third of the world’s carbon, as much as five times terrestrial forests.
Wetlands — swamps, rivers, floodplains, lakes, salt marshes, peatlands — are highly productive ecosystems covering six per cent of the world’s surface today. They deliver a wide range of services that contribute to human well-being — such as nutrition, water purification and supply, coastal protection, habitat for biodiversity and climate and flood regulation. Their role cannot be overstated.
Studies show 35 to 80 per cent of wetlands have been wiped out. Sadly, they are viewed as wastelands to be drained, filled in or converted mainly for agriculture. Besides direct human activity, they are also under threat from climate change.
At COP26, world leaders, policymakers and environmentalists are likely to continue championing the conservation and restoration of forests to reduce carbon dioxide and fight climate change. And rightly so! Sadly, wetlands have been overlooked.
Wetlands store over a third of the world’s carbon, as much as five times terrestrial forests. And the potential for harnessing nature to fight climate change should be both terrestrial forests and wetlands.
Besides the worst pandemic of our generation, last year had record temperatures and climate change impacts such as floods and droughts. These disasters continue unabated across numerous countries in Africa, including Kenya, every year.
Millions of strained or vulnerable communities suffer unreliable rainfall, prolonged severe droughts and extreme storms. These exacerbate their basic needs of food, adequate clean water, land and a healthy environment and strains the governments’ response.
A serious drought that is ravaging Kenya forced President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare it a national disaster in September. Reports indicate that more than two million people are severely food-insecure.
Adaptation to climate change is a key pillar for the 2015 Paris Agreement (COP21), which aims to limit global warming at least 1.5 degrees Celsius. All signatories are required to plan and implement adaptation measures through studies, monitoring of climate change effects and investment in a green future. COP 26 brings together different parties to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris deal.
According to “UN Adaptation Gap Report 2020”, which focuses on nature-based solutions, adapting to climate change sets back developing countries by about $70 billion (Sh7 trillion) annually and could rise to $300 billion. It calls for urgent setting up of public and private finance for adaptation along with faster implementation as well as prioritising nature-based solutions that benefit human well-being and biodiversity by protecting, sustainably managing and restoring natural or modified ecosystems.
Wetlands are one of these nature-based solutions that play a critical role in climate change adaptation and resilience. Wetlands are the powerhouses that will help tackle the biggest 21st Century threat to humanity. They should form part of policies that help to fight the adverse effects of climate change.
Ms Mulonga is the director of Wetlands International Eastern Africa. [email protected] @WetlandsIntEA