Current climate actions are not nearly enough to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst of its impacts. Countries must accelerate efforts to get on track. Restoring and conserving wetlands play a critical role in mitigating climate change, but a wetland-focused approach is lacking. Peatlands, marshes, and other wetlands accommodate the largest carbon stocks among terrestrial ecosystems and yet are suffering a loss rate three times higher than that of forests. This blog by Maxime Eiselin, senior expert nature-based solutions and part of our REWET-team, delves into the imperative for turning attention to wetlands at the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP28.

Headerfoto: Nationaal Park Weerribben-Wieden © Nadine Kliffen/ IUCN NL

The latest IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report has confirmed that wetland conservation and restoration are critical for climate change mitigation and adaptation. A wetland-focused approach is relatively cheap and delivers multiple benefits compared to a purely sectoral or grey approach using, for example, dams and dykes. There is, however, no UNFCCC negotiation track solely dedicated to wetlands conservation and restoration. It seems like ecosystems other than forests are not getting the attention that they deserve in climate debates.

Wetland management as a response to the global stocktake

UNFCCC COP28 is poised to witness an unprecedented milestone with the inception of the global stocktake: a mechanism that offers a panoramic view of collective progress towards the goals outlined in the Paris Climate Change Agreement. For policy makers, it presents an exceptional opportunity to recalibrate our efforts and bridge existing gaps.

The global stocktake’s summary of key political messages, to be referenced in COP28’s final decision, can serve as a potent platform for advocating nature-based solutions. Here, wetland conservation and restoration deserve a prominent place, aligning seamlessly with the messaging laid out in the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, a cornerstone of COP27, which encourages Parties to consider nature-based solutions, such as wetland restoration, for their mitigation and adaptation action.

By weaving wetlands into the narrative of climate action, from global stocktake summaries to loss and damage compensation mechanisms, UNFCCC COP28 can set a transformative precedent for incorporating nature-based solutions into the climate agenda.

Wetland degradation and the new loss and damage fund

In the last century, wetland degradation has led to the loss of nearly 50% of coastal wetlands, primarily due to human activity, sea level rise, and extreme climate events. This loss results in non-economic consequences, including the decline of biodiversity hotspots and disrupted water regulation services. These losses are challenging to quantify financially due to their intangible nature. However, over a billion people directly depend on wetlands for their livelihoods, underscoring their vital importance.

The ground-breaking COP27 decision to establish a loss and damage fund marks a significant milestone in climate negotiations. The transitional committee established at COP27, mandated to make recommendations for consideration and adoption by COP28 about the operationalisation of the new fund, now faces the task of addressing a pivotal question: How can compensation be provided for the non-economic loss and damage resulting from wetland degradation? This intricate journey calls for a nuanced approach that weaves together ecological restoration, community well-being, and climate justice.

Call to action: get wetlands firmly embedded under UNFCCC

In essence, the confluence of the global stocktake and the establishment of the loss and damage fund provides a strategic opportunity to catalyse wetlands conservation and restoration efforts. By weaving wetlands, next to forests, into the narrative of climate action, from global stocktake summaries to loss and damage compensation mechanisms, COP28 can set a transformative precedent for incorporating nature-based solutions into the climate agenda. The momentum generated through these actions can reverberate well beyond COP28, heralding a new era of climate resilience where wetlands play a pivotal role in safeguarding our planet’s future.

REWET: wetlands restoration

In the REWET project, funded by the European Union, IUCN NL has joined forces with other European NGOs, universities, government institutes, and companies to study the full potential of wetland areas in mitigating climate change. With information from seven open laboratories, together we are developing a comprehensive understanding of how European wetlands can best contribute to climate mitigation and adaptation.

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Maxime Eiselin
Senior Expert Nature-based Solutions