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Climate Change and Wetlands: The IPCC Weighs In

Tom Schueneman's picture

Environmental writer, journalist and web publisher. Founder of

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  • Feb 8, 2013

Understanding the ecosystem services provided by wetlands is key to climate change mitigation and a healthy environment for future generationsClimate change, sea level rise, ocean acidification, air, water and marine pollution, deforestation and loss of biodiversity all transcend geopolitical boundaries and pose serious threats to sustaining a level of material comfort and quality of life that many have come to take for granted and to which many others desperately aspire.

Forging global governance agreements and international standards, such as the UN International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (NGGI), for factors and forces driving these transboundary processes hence is critical if we are to have any chance of leaving future generations healthy, sustainable societies and ecosystems. Faced with having to develop new scientific methodologies and technology — as well as change our ingrained attitudes, values, beliefs, and behavior — at the same time, these transboundary issues related to global governance rank among the greatest collective challenges in human history.

Taking an important step down the path to global governance of transboundary challenges, the IPCC on January 31 announced the second order draft of the “2013 Supplement to the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories: Wetlands” has moved into its government expert review.

Global governance to meet transboundary challenges

A total of 127 experts participated in the review of the first order draft, which also included reviewing 5,055 comments. The second order NGGI: Wetlands Supplement is expected to be completed this October, according to the IPCC.

Though we continue to lose them at a rapid rate, the world’s wetlands are significant sinks for carbon sequestration, one of the many ecosystem services they provide societies and humanity. It’s estimated that half or more of the world’s wetlands were lost during the 20th century, primarily due to human activity.

Omitted from the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for NGGIs, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2010 asked the IPCC to expand its work to develop methodologies for wetlands. In May, 2011, the IPCC, in turn, set its Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories the task of developing “additional national-level inventory methodological guidance on wetlands to address the gaps identified in the 2006 IPCC Guidelines.”

“Climate policy and global climate negotiations rely on a robust scientific foundation to produce sound results. The IPCC provides policymakers with regular assessments of climate science and its potential impacts, as well as assessments of the possibilities for mitigating climate change,” the multilateral UN organization elaborated.

“The estimation of emissions and removals of greenhouse gases is one important basis for climate mitigation and the IPCC provides de facto international standards for such estimation, though highly technical work, while offering flexibility to take different national circumstances and capacities into account.”

Adding impetus to international efforts to conserve wetlands and the social and ecological products and services they provide, a host of international organizations marked the Ramsar Convention’s World Wetlands Day 2013 on February 1, releasing an environmental policy paper that “urges a major shift in our attitudes to wetlands, to recognize their value in delivering water, raw materials and food, essential for life, and crucial for maintaining people’s livelihoods and the sustainability of the world’s economies.”

Image credit: vaticanus, courtesy flickr

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Bob Bingham's picture
Bob Bingham on Feb 10, 2013

Of all the things that are going to be lost I think that the wetlands are going to be first. Most of them are on the coast in estuaries and are very vunerable to sea level rise. It will be a tragic loss but I feel that they are already the walking dead.

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