Renewed GEO Wetlands Initiative aims to meet data needs for accelerated conservation and restoration

Blog / May 24, 2022

Wetlands practitioners and policy makers met on 10-11 May 2022 to work on a renewed GEO Wetlands initiative. With persistent gaps in wetlands data and increased opportunities to adopt new technology and leverage financing, the group sought to identify the integrated Earth observation tools and services required to accelerate wetlands conservation and restoration.

Wetlands are biodiversity hotspots, mitigate against flooding and store more carbon than the world’s forests. They provide ecosystem services including fresh water and food worth an estimated US $47 trillion a year. Despite these critical benefits, wetlands have been drained and degraded for much of the last two centuries. The Global Wetland Outlook, a report by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, says that wetlands are our most threatened ecosystem, disappearing three times faster than forests.

Reversing this trend could yield dramatic benefits. According to Project Drawdown, protecting the 53.2 million hectares of coastal wetlands globally would secure an estimated 10.6–12.1 gigatons of carbon, equivalent to more than 38.9–44.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide if released into the atmosphere. This would be a massive contribution to global climate change mitigation efforts.

To drive the conversation around wetlands, realize these benefits and secure the necessary financing, countries require wetland inventories, assessment and monitoring. National wetland inventories in particular support efficient wetland protection and management policies. This information on wetland conditions helps countries to prioritize wetlands for restoration, make wetland management decisions and establish baselines to assess the effectiveness of regulatory mechanisms. It can also provide evidence to support investing in nature markets.

However, information on wetland ecosystems and their services is often difficult to find and hard to use. Only 8.8% of the sites listed on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance are reporting negative human-induced changes or likely changes in ecological character. Given widespread reports of the deteriorating status of wetlands, this is an implausibly low figure that suggests a lack of reporting, rather than an absence of change.1 

Earth observations will play an important role in closing the data gap. They provide a large variety of essential information on wetlands regarding their extent and temporal variation, boundaries, land use and land use change, topography, hydrology, water height and inundation dynamics, as well as threats, and disaster risks.

This information is needed by a large diversity of users from local communities and non-governmental organizations to national agencies and international organizations. It also informs policy and operational work linked to the UN 2030 Agenda, notably Sustainable Development Goal 6 and indicator 6.6.1 (change in water-related ecosystems over time).

The workshop, organized by the GEO Secretariat, the GEO Wetlands Initiative and the Ramsar Convention, kick-started work on an implementation plan for a renewed GEO Wetlands – an initiative that can provide countries with the information they need, and at the same time support nature-based solutions, unlock financing and feed into the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. At UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow it was highlighted that combining climate and biodiversity issues is key to support and develop the global environmental agenda.

Participants, including representatives from academia, UN agencies (including the United Nations Environment Programme as the co-custodian of SDG 6.6.1 with the Ramsar Convention), non-governmental organizations, regional organizations and governments, identified the requirements for data harmonization, curation and compatibility across various wetlands inventory efforts, as well as the need to move from research to operational systems. They identified more than 30 programmes delivering national, regional or global relevant information for wetlands inventories from Earth observations, as well as a need for more coordination between these programmes.

In the coming months, a core group of practitioners and policy makers will work together to design a three-year workplan for GEO Wetlands. This work will integrate other GEO efforts in the areas of biodiversity, water and ecosystem accounting to ensure synergies and impact across the GEO activities.

The recordings of the workshop are available here 



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