Wetlands are our “life insurance” against the combined climate & biodiversity loss crises, but we keep neglecting them!

Wetlands are our “life insurance” against the combined climate & biodiversity loss crises, but we keep neglecting them!

2022 is about to break all records – temperature extremes, heat waves, droughts – in Europe, revealing the vulnerability of our agriculture, forestry management, energy mix and economies to phenomena that have long been predicted by scientists, but poorly anticipated.

The Rhine, the Loire and the Po, as well as the Yangtze and Parana, were previously powerful rivers, but this summer they have seemed like ghosts slipping through a bed of sediment cracked by the sun.

At the same time, accumulating reports attest to the accelerated collapse of biodiversity, the life of our planet. The number of vertebrate populations on Earth has decreased by 69% since 1970, and this collapse has reached 83% for freshwater species1, a sign of the massive destruction of wetlands.

These two crises of climate and biodiversity are intimately linked and feed into each other. They form the two faces of a systemic crisis that has its roots in our wrong-headed relationship with the living world. A relationship “against Nature”, against millions of species on which we are dependent and interdependent, as an integral part of the whole.

It is in this context of unprecedented tensions that a series of international events dedicated to nature and climate is unfolding in the space of only a few weeks: the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the intergovernmental treaties on wetlands2, climate3, the trade of wild species4 and lastly biodiversity5.

This sequence is a unique opportunity to freeze the frame, to question the commitments, ambitions and connections between these treaties… and to better move forward.

An urgent transition, but hampered by too much resistance
There is no shortage of reasons for concern as these international meetings approach: The rate at which wetlands are disappearing around the world is not slowing down, despite repeated commitments by States; a recent UNEP report on climate shows that the international community’s progress is “woefully inadequate” in charting a credible course towards achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement. On the biodiversity front, after the obvious failure of the Aichi targets, which were supposed to commit to the recovery of biodiversity during the 2011-2020 decade, the new framework that is taking shape for the current decade looks too unambitious and still sorely lacks a mechanism for holding states accountable.

Inventing a new way of sharing water by placing life at the centre
Water grabbing in the plains, in mega-basins or in the mountains to produce artificial snow is the “swan song” of agriculture and tourism sectors that refuse to adapt to the inevitable. We see impossible trade-offs between crop irrigation, hydroelectricity production, cooling of nuclear power plants, domestic or industrial uses, addressed with water that is too scarce to satisfy the various needs to which our production and consumption models have accustomed us.

It is urgent that we accept the obvious, reconsider our relationship with water and with living beings, and change our behaviours that deeply affect the great water cycle. Faced with growing needs, less and less predictable and controllable water availability, we must reinvent its uses and its sharing, leaving a fair share to nature. This nature that we must no longer consider as an adjustment variable of our production systems, but as their foundation, as the basis of our lives and economies.

Wetlands, providers of solutions to growing societal challenges
Wetlands, long perceived as unhealthy, are the most destroyed ecosystems on the planet, declining three times faster than forests. But as they disappear, they are proving to be the ecosystem that contributes the most to humanity. More than a billion people depend directly on them for their existence and many more benefit from their extraordinary powers. They are the “kidneys of nature”, purifying the water we pollute. Gigantic sponges, that capture increasingly irregular and often massive precipitation, attenuate the peaks of floods, recharge water reservoirs and support the flow of rivers during longer and more intense droughts. Hydrologists agree that the most effective and sustainable way to store water and make it available for a variety of uses is to ensure that groundwater and wetlands are fully functional and interconnected.

At a time when societal challenges – food security, climate change, water supply, human health… – have never been more intense, there is an urgent need for massive wetland protection and restoration. These are highly effective, low-cost solutions with multiple collateral benefits. Nature-based Solutions. Our life insurance.

Authors: Tour du Valat, IUCN French Committee and Ramsar France

This text is endorsed by
Francis Hallé, botanist; Erik Orsenna, writer, member of the Académie française, president of the Initiative for the Future of Great Rivers; Françoise Nyssen, publisher and former minister; Allain Bougrain Dubourg, President of the LPO; Jean-Paul Capitani, publisher; Vincent Munier, photographer; Charlélie Couture, artist; Emma Haziza, hydrologist; Jérôme Bignon, President of Ramsar France; Maud Lelièvre, President of the French Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature; André Hoffmann, Fondation Tour du Valat; Maja Hoffmann, Fondation LUMA Arles; Vera Michalski-Hoffmann, Fondation Tour du Valat; Frédérique Tuffnell, vice-president of Ramsar France; Wolfgang Cramer, biologist CNRS, Mediterranean Institute of Biodiversity and Ecology; Patrick Duncan, biologist, CNRS; Marc-André Selosse, biologist; Rémi Luglia, President of the Société ‘nationale de Protection de la Nature; Véronique Andrieux, Director General, WWF France; Charlotte Meunier, President of Réserves Naturelles de France; Didier Babin, President of the French Committee of the Man and Biosphere Programme; Didier Réault, President of Rivages de France; Jean Jalbert, Director General of the Tour du Valat; Jean-Marie Gilardeau, President of the Forum des Marais Atlantiques; Luc Barbier, vice-president of CEN Hauts de France; Laurent Gode, secretary of Ramsar France; Olivier Hubert, administrator of Ramsar France; Geneviève Magnon, president of the Atlantic Marshes Study Group; Michel Métais, president of the Roche association, Michel Métais, President of the Rochefort-Ocean Development Council; Alain Salvi, Director General of the Federation of Conservatories of Natural Spaces; Stéphan Arnassant, head of the Biodiversity and Natural Heritage Unit at the Camargue Regional Nature Park; Mediterranean Alliance for Wetlands (32 NGOS and research institutions working together to bring a voice bring a voice and action towards protecting and managing the Mediterranean Wetlands).

[1] WWF – Living Planet Report 2022
[2] Ramsar COP14
[3] COP27 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
[4] COP19 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
[5] COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity
[6] United Nations Environment Programme
[7] Peatlands, lakes, marshes, lagoons, rivers, mangroves, ponds, alluvial valleys, deltas, estuaries…

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