Fri, Sep 28, 2018 - Page 7 News List

ENVIRONMENT: Wetland loss a major threat to the climate, report says

AFP, GENEVA, Switzerland

Wetlands, among the world’s most valuable and biodiverse ecosystems, are disappearing at alarming speed amid urbanization and agriculture shifts, conservationists said yesterday, calling for urgent action to halt the erosion.

“We are in a crisis,” Ramsar Convention on Wetlands Secretary General Martha Rojas Urrego told reporters in Geneva, warning that wetland loss could have devastating effects, including on climate change.

The secretariat of the convention, adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar nearly a half-century ago, yesterday published its first-ever global report on the state of the world’s wetlands.

The 88-page report said that about 35 percent of wetlands — which include lakes, rivers, marshes and peatlands, as well as coastal and marine areas like lagoons, mangroves and coral reefs — were lost between 1970 and 2015.

Today, wetlands cover more than 12 million square kilometrers, the report said, warning that the annual rates of loss has accelerated since 2000.

“We are losing wetlands three times faster than forests,” Rojas Urrego said, describing the Global Wetland Outlook report as a “red flag.”

While the world has been increasingly focused on global warming and its effects on oceans and forests, the convention secretariat said that wetlands remain “dangerously undervalued.”

The outlook, released in advance of a meeting of parties to the convention in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, next month, stressed the importance of wetlands to all life on Earth.

Directly or indirectly, they provide almost all of the world’s consumption of freshwater, and more than 40 percent of all species live and breed in wetlands, it said.

Animals and plants who call wetlands home are particularly vulnerable, with a quarter at risk of extinction, the report said.

Wetlands also provide a livelihood for more than 1 billion people, while mitigating floods and protecting coastlines, it said, adding that they are also a vital source of food, raw materials and genetic resources for medicines.

Wetlands are essential to reining in climate change, with peatlands storing twice as much carbon as the world’s forests, even though they cover only 3 percent of all land surface, the secretariat said, adding that salt marshes, seagrass beds and mangroves also store large quantities of carbon.

When wetlands disappear, carbon that has been safely locked in the soil is released into the atmosphere, the report said.

Climate scientists have long warned of the threat of so-called positive feedbacks — a vicious cycle of global warming — but their fears have focused primarily on the potent greenhouse gas methane seeping from thawing Arctic permafrost.

However, the dark swampy peatlands of the tropics are also a major concern, the report said, warning that draining soil for farming and development poses a climate threat.

Considering wetlands as wastelands is therefore problematic, Rojas Urrego said, lamenting “the perception of swamps as something we need to drain.”

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