Sat, Nov 19, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Mother Nature has given us the keys to combat climate change

Not only do wetlands, oceans and forests absorb and store carbon, they also provide fresh water and are a source of food for nearly 3 billion people

By Martha Rojas-Urregoand Patricia Espinosa

Protecting, cleaning and maintaining nature-based systems, such as peatlands, wetlands and oceans is the key to achieving climate neutrality, which is necessary to keep global warming below 2°C

Wetlands, forests and oceans absorb and store carbon, which makes them a vital asset for countries pursuing the Paris climate agreement’s targets for reducing carbon emissions. So how can we use them most effectively?

The Paris accord was concluded by 196 governments in December last year and came into force earlier this month. Its signatories are currently meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, for the annual UN climate change conference. Several conference events specifically focus on how countries can use natural systems to meet their carbon emissions-reduction targets.

While the climate-change challenge is immense, so, too, is the opportunity to accelerate sustainable development and ensure a better future for everyone on the planet. Under the Paris agreement, governments have committed to reducing their carbon emissions drastically to keep global warming below 2°C. The vast majority of signatory countries have already presented national action plans for achieving this goal and these plans are likely to become more ambitious over time.

These Nationally Determined Contributions include renewable-energy targets and proposals for sustainable transportation, energy efficiency and education. In addition, countries should consider adopting policies to manage natural capital better. The Paris agreement itself recognizes the important role that natural ecosystems play in limiting the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and governments should not neglect such powerful tools.

Governments need to take action to conserve existing ecosystems — and restore and expand degraded ecosystems — in people-friendly ways. This is particularly true of wetlands, which include all land areas — such as lakes, floodplains, peatlands, mangroves and coral reefs — that are covered with water, either seasonally or permanently.


Peatlands are particularly important. Though they cover only 3 percent of the world’s total surface area, they store twice as much carbon as all forests combined. Peatland soils are composed of carbon — in the form of decomposed plant material — that has accumulated for thousands of years; and when peatlands are drained or burned, that carbon is released into the atmosphere. In fact, draining peatlands releases two times more carbon into the atmosphere than the aviation industry does.

Last year, fires raged across Indonesia’s forested peatlands, raising concerns worldwide about how much carbon was being released into the atmosphere, to say nothing of the far-reaching health effects. The Indonesian government estimates that peatland fires and deforestation alone account for more than 60 percent of the nation’s total greenhouse-gas emissions.

Conserving and restoring peatlands could significantly reduce global carbon emissions, which is why, last year, the Nordic Council of Ministers announced a commitment to preserve the region’s peatlands. Almost half of Nordic countries’ peatlands have been lost and this ecosystem degradation contributes 25 percent to their total carbon emissions.

The Paris agreement entered fully into force in less than a year. This indicates that there is global momentum for concrete action to address the causes of climate change, as well as its effects, such as the disastrous floods, water shortages and droughts already afflicting many countries.

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