Each year, the international community celebrates World Wetlands Day on the 2nd February, a day to put a spotlight on the state of our wetlands globally. Organised by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the 2021 theme focuses on the intrinsic link between wetlands and freshwater, highlighting the role wetlands play in the quantity and quality of freshwater on our planet.
With the ever-increasing frequency of too much, too little, or too polluted water a stark reality in the 21st Century, wetlands play a key role in storing, absorbing, and cleaning freshwater, and in protecting people from extreme weather impacts. In engineering terms, wetlands provide infrastructure-like services that can replace or complement the conventional grey structures such as water treatment facilities and reservoirs – at a much lower cost, and with considerable biodiversity, carbon and recreational co-benefits.
Wetlands are key allies in the fight against climate change too. Peatlands (wetlands with a naturally accumulated peat layer at the surface) store twice as much carbon as forests, despite only occupying 3% of the world’s land surface. However, a lack of awareness on the benefits of peatlands means they have been severely overexploited and damaged, with over 15% of peatlands drained, resulting in a significant release of carbon into our atmosphere.
As part of the Water for Climate Impact Programme, IUCN launched a Peatlands Impact Call in December 2020. The Call is the first of three to identify and build a pipeline of projects in and around peatland areas. With the aim to increase investment in peatland protection, demonstrating bankable business models that protect peatlands, strengthening local livelihoods whilst yielding financial returns, and building partnerships for action, the Peatland Call is a drastic action to reverse the loss and further degradation of these precious wetlands.
With a world population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, we will require 55% more water. Whilst this quantity is enormous, the quality of freshwater requires urgent attention as well. Many water sources are polluted due to chemicals, plastic waste or untreated wastewater, leaving 2.2 billion people drinking unsafe water. Wetlands can play a vital role in supporting the efforts towards more and safe freshwater and in reaching Sustainable Development Goal 6: ‘Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’.
In a new paper ‘H2O ≠ CO2: Framing and Responding to the Global Water Crisis’, Ian Harrison, Co-Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, and co-authors argue that rather than encouraging the private sector to invest in offsets for their water impact, providing more support and investment to local stakeholders is key, allowing them to make the right decisions for the trade-offs necessary to achieve economic development within ecological limits (see IUCN Crossroads blog).
As Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands states for World Wetlands Day, “significant investments are required in wetlands as natural solutions for water management, as well as enacting policies that integrate wetlands into management plans. All are decisive actions, towards a green economy and paramount to building back better”.
As the world painfully realises throughout the COVID19 pandemic, access to safe water and soap for handwashing can help stave off disease and keep our economies functioning. To actually ‘Build Back Better’ we must recognise and include the vital need to provide clean water and protect the natural systems that provide it, such as wetlands.
Source: World Wetlands Day