CLIMATE CHANGE AND PROTECTING OUR WETLANDS
Academics, researchers, legal counsels, policymakers, and biodiversity specialists converged at the “Workshop on REDD+ and Legal Regimes of Mangroves, Peatlands, and Other Wetlands: ASEAN and the World” at the National University of Singapore on 15 and 16 November 2012 to discuss REDD+ and related issues pertaining to wetlands protection.
What is REDD+?
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is an initiative that offers financial compensation to governments, private land owners, and local communities to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The plus (“+”) in REDD+ denotes the need for sustainable forest management, conservation, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks, all of which complement the efforts against deforestation and forest degradation.
What are wetlands?
Wetlands are carbon-rich tropical ecosystems in water-saturated land areas. They store a large amount of the world’s carbon, and host a unique assemblage of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. Coastal wetlands such as mangrove ecosystems, which are scattered through Asia, are also excellent buffers that reduce the vulnerability of low-lying coastal zones to damage from storm surges, tropical cyclones, and tsunamis.
What role do wetlands play in climate change?
Parts of Southeast Asia, including wetlands, experienced the highest level of deforestation among all humid tropical regions of the world during the 1990s. ASEAN’s wetlands have the highest biodiversity in the world, but also the highest rate of wetland loss in the world. Due to the immense amount of carbon stored in wetlands, deforestation in this region has the potential to release a catastrophic amount of carbon emissions into the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. For such reasons, the international community has taken steps to recognise wetland ecosystems as assets that can help mitigate climate change.
Why are mangroves in particular under serious threat?
The world faces an immense challenge in preventing the destruction of wetlands. Mangroves are affected by external factors such as the overall impact of global warming, land reclamation, sea level rise, and territorial encroachment.
How does REDD+ help in the conservation of forests and wetlands?
REDD+ brings together the ideals of business enterprises and environmental conservation. It is envisaged that financial compensation and private sector participation will encourage investment in and commitment to the conservation of forests that would otherwise be converted for other land uses.
However, the application of REDD+ to wetlands is currently challenging. Wetlands are affected by multiple stressors and external factors, and the scientific community does not know for certain how much carbon is stored in wetlands, as most of it is found underground, deep in the soil. More work has to be done to fill information gaps and develop technical competencies, particularly in developing countries, before the REDD+ mechanism can contribute towards the conservation of wetlands.
Can REDD+ solve all our climate change problems?
REDD+ alone cannot adequately mitigate climate change. Other measures need to complement the REDD+ effort to protect the environment. The implementation of REDD+ must co-exist with significant emissions reduction measures in both developed and developing countries if the world hopes to curb climate change effectively.