Friday, July 19, 2024

Wetlands as A Tool for Climate Change Mitigation


Three of the world’s greatest challenges over the coming decades will be climate change, biodiversity loss, and water stress (World Bank 2008). Global climate change is undoubtedly the most pervasive, complex and challenging of the global environmental issues facing contemporary societies and it affects all aspects of development. The effects of climate change are local and vary among systems, sectors and regions.

Although many natural and economic sectors will be affected by climate change, impacts on agriculture and water availability will have the greatest potential to negatively affect the livelihood of the poor in rural areas, as well as national economic growth in the least-developed countries-especially in the Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

The high dependence of economies and rural people of SSA upon rain-fed agriculture, the prevalence of poverty and food insecurity and limited development of institutional and infrastructural capacities makes coping with natural climate variability a perennial challenge.

Coastal wetlands are among the best marine ecosystems to fight climate change, new research confirms.

Wetlands are natural and human-made infrastructures that receive, transport, clean, store and deliver water to a wide range of users-“ from the mountains to the seas”- for domestic needs, agriculture, biodiversity, industry and other economic production as well as maintenance of social and cultural integrity. The Ramsar Convention- a body that manages wetlands- recognizes 42 types of wetlands, including rivers and their tributaries and floodplains, lakes, estuaries, deltas, peatlands, oases, coastal areas, together with mangroves and coral reefs.

In Kenya, six wetland areas have been designated by Ramsar for international importance due to the significant habitats encompassed by the wetlands. These include Tana River Delta; Lake Nakuru; Lake Naivasha; Lake Elementeita; Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo.

Wetlands in response to climate change

On 2nd February every year, the world marks the World Wetlands Day, which marks the adoption of the Convention of Wetlands. Every year the celebration puts forward a different theme which member countries have to follow in sustainably managing the wetlands. This year, the world marked the day with different activities – seminars, nature walks and community clean-ups focusing on the theme “Wetland and Climate Change”.

As unique ecosystems wetlands are highly valued for the services and functions they provide to human beings and other animals and plants. Moreover, they are important assets in mitigating climate change

Wetland ecosystems help regulate climate change by storing and capturing carbon.  In particular, although wetlands are estimated to cover 3% of the world’s land surface, it is estimated to be the largest carbon store, with about 550 gigatonnes of carbon worldwide. UNEP informs us that managing and maintaining the value of wetlands is quick and cost-effective. It reduces as much as 10% of greenhouse emissions.

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Wetlands make communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change. They provide buffers against sea level rise and storm surges and reduce the impacts of floods, droughts and cyclones.

Importantly, human adaptation to the impacts of climate change cannot happen without wetlands. They are the primary source of water for human consumption, energy and agriculture in all its forms. They provide important social and economic services, with billions of people depending on wetlands for their livelihoods. In planning for adaptation to climate change, we need to link with issues related to ecosystem services, especially the value of food from wetlands and fresh water supply.

The effective management, including restoration, under climate change scenarios, could support basic human needs for food and water, keeping in mind that increasing demand for food and water could serve to further undermine wetland management.

Yet despite all the critical services that wetlands provide, 64% of the world’s wetlands have been lost in the last century. This must change if we have to mitigate climate change and provide other multiple benefits to human beings through wetlands. Human activities degrade the wetlands faster than other ecosystems. In addition, inadequate enforcement of policies that govern the wetlands greatly influences their prosperity.

In Africa, wetlands are estimated to cover 131 million hectares. The Okavango Delta and Lake Victoria basin are among the largest. They deliver a wide range of ecosystem services that contribute to human well-being. Due to their abundance, if sustainably managed, they can play a critical role in mitigating climate change on the continent.

Figure 2 Ariel view of The Okavango Delta in Botswana

In the pursuit of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement of 2015, there is a need for African countries to include wetlands in National agendas and forums. This will help realize the potential of wetlands to mitigate climate change- which has become a menace to the continent.

As societies scramble to find ways to avoid overshooting critical environmental thresholds during the coming months and years, global attention on ‘solutions’ will undoubtedly grow. Wetlands will emerge as one of the best available technologies to invest in.

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