LET’S STAND UP AND RECOGNISE THE #POWEROFWETLANDS
SIGN THIS OPEN LETTER to show your support for the power of wetlands.
This is an open letter from a growing global youth contingent to political and business leaders as well as national focal points for the Paris Agreement calling for inclusion of wetlands in the fight against climate change. We invite everyone to support it by adding their signature, share it far and wide – and make it their own.
Background The 2015 Paris Agreement requires countries to increase their ambition in fighting climate change and to limit global temperature below 1.5°C. These ambitions are described in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), submitted or updated every five years or earlier. As it stands, the current commitments of countries grossly lack this ambition resulting in a meager 0.5% reduction in emissions and puts us on a path to a 3 or 4°C of global warming1. As young people, we will experience the impacts of this lack of commitment within our lifetimes – our future is at stake. We cannot stand by, let this happen and waste the opportunity for meaningful action.
We join calls from youth from around the world made through the #Youth4Nature Manifesto declaring a planetary emergency and demanding transformative change. The dire state of the world’s wetlands is a direct reflection of this global emergency. The level of action required must be proportional. Today we focus on the need for the integration of wetlands within National Climate Plans and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). Wetlands are the places between aquatic and land-based ecosystems, temporarily or permanently submerged in water. They are the water systems in the landscape, capturing, storing and slowly releasing water.
They provide habitats and refuge for up to 40% of biodiversity including vulnerable and endangered flora and fauna. They support many birds, amphibians, fish, and plant species by providing vital breeding, feeding, and nesting grounds. They also form corridors for migrating species.
Healthy wetlands provide many benefits and services that far exceed those of terrestrial ecosystems. People, including many indigenous communities, depend on wetlands for their food and drinking water, livelihoods and protection from extreme weather. Wetlands are a key part of the water cycle, maintaining the ecological balance, locking away carbon from the atmosphere and reducing water and air pollution. Thriving wetlands serve cultural, spiritual, economic, social, and recreational purposes. Wetlands provide comfort, health and safety, and serve as places of inspiration across generations.
Yet, today, we are losing wetlands at a rate three times faster than forests. Still, they are not getting the same level of attention.
Since 1700, we have lost more than 85% of wetlands worldwide. Wetlands are increasingly drained, dammed and developed over leading to their degradation and rapid loss. This in turn reduces available freshwater, making our landscapes, food production, communities, economies and societies vulnerable and prone to natural, economic and social disasters. It affects the poorest and most vulnerable and contributes to a global biodiversity in freefall.
Wetlands are essential to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as they both affect and are affected by climate change.
Some wetlands, like peatlands, mangroves, tempered tree swamps and sea grasses are carbon sinks, locking away carbon over millennia through complex biological processes. As wetlands are drained, converted or altered, organic matter, once submerged in water, is exposed to the air and oxidises, releasing potent greenhouse gases like methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. In some cases, this organic matter has been carefully preserved in water for thousands of years. Such disturbances can trigger negative and dangerous feedback loops that accelerate global warming (3,4,5). 5-10% of global emissions come from draining and converting peatlands alone6 – their protection and restoration is an imperative.
We must protect the remaining carbon megastores in wetlands across the world and restore those that have been drained and converted. Climate action through wetland conservation, wise use and restoration is not only a practical nature-based solution, it is an imperative for every country.
The effective conservation of wetlands results in cross-cutting benefits to humans and nature alike and assists in achieving national targets for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
We cannot reach net-zero or achieve sustainable development without safeguarding and restoring the health of our global wetlands.
Photo by Gab Mejia
OUR DEMANDS As nature-based solutions to climate change with far-reaching benefits for people and nature, wetlands offer a way for our countries to achieve more ambitious climate plans. We, the youth ambassadors, youth organizations, community groups and concerned citizens that sign this letter call for the halting of the degradation and destruction of wetlands. We want you, our leaders, to make wetland conservation and restoration a national and global priority for the sake of your people, your children and future generations. We need a paradigm shift across behavior, values, and actions to limit temperatures to 1.5°C of global warming. This requires actions from governments, businesses and the public at local, national and global levels. To political and business leaders and policy makers across ministries, sectors and municipalities, your leadership is required to raise the ambition at your level. We call on you:
To recognize the power of wetlands and to integrate them into National Climate Plans and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The ability to take ambitious actions for wetlands is within reach. A number of governments have shown what is possible and have started to integrate wetland conservation, restoration and wise use in their national strategies. The integration of wetlands in the NDCs has many facets, from creating the knowledge basis through wetland inventories and including wetlands in greenhouse gas inventories to restoring wetlands, identifying and protecting wetlands, strengthening their management and governance. Reducing the drivers of wetlands loss by changing land and water policies that shape sectors such as agriculture is a key and necessary way to include wetlands in the NDCs.
To prioritize wetland and human wellbeing over short-term development projects and plans. Take a comprehensive analysis of the impacts of development and infrastructure projects, fully considering the long-term consequences in relation to land degradation, water availability, food security, locking away carbon, community resilience and outward migration.
To ensure meaningful climate action across sectors is “Wetlands AND”, not “Wetlands INSTEAD OF”. Reduction of emissions from other sectors should be done as well as wetland conservation and restoration. It is an imperative alongside other imperatives. Wetlands must be considered across land use planning, water management, economic and development planning to avoid perverse outcomes as a result of action in other sectors. Only through an integrated approach can wetlands be protected, conserved, wisely used and restored on the ground, not just on paper.
To respect, uphold and protect human rights and to include communities in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of wetland conservation, restoration and wise use projects. This is an essential step towards the successful implementation of the NDCs that can have a positive long-term impact. We must listen to and ensure the meaningful inclusion of the needs and knowledge of local communities and Indigenous Peoples, who have been custodians of wetlands for hundreds of years. Safeguarding and restoring wetlands is most effective when it is done together with the communities that directly depend on them.
To provide incentives for businesses to conduct wetland-responsible practices which do not make profit over the destruction and degradation of wetlands and be transparent about environmental impact. As consumers, we have a responsibility to demand for the wise use of wetlands in our products. What we buy, what we eat, what we drink matters. We demand the transition towards the wise use of wetlands and responsible business practices in harmony with wetlands. We need greater access to information and business accountability.
To partner with youth initiatives working to achieve the same goal – we can move faster together. As scientists, community activists, young leaders and mobilisers, we have field experience in wetland conservation, restoration, research, advocacy and outreach. We offer our knowledge and skills to you in your efforts to design, implement and monitor wetland NDCs. For this to happen, we welcome the creation of conditions and spaces that encourage young people to participate through processes like national youth consultations and the NDC Youth Engagement Plan.