30 Jan 2020 Story Ecosystems and Biodiversity

“Wetlands and Biodiversity” is the theme for World Wetlands Day 2020

Photo by Igor Stojović. Lake Ulcinj, Montenegro

World Wetlands Day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea.

The 2020 theme for World Wetlands Day is an opportunity to highlight wetland biodiversity, its status, why it matters and to promote actions to reverse its loss.

According to The Ramsar Convention, “wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.” Fish ponds, rice paddies, depollution and stabilization ponds, and saltpans are human-made wetlands.

Wetlands are vital for humans, for other ecosystems and for our climate, providing essential ecosystem services such as water regulation, including flood control and water purification. Wetland biodiversity matters for our health, our food supply, for tourism and for jobs. Wetlands also absorb carbon dioxide so help slow global heating and reduce pollution, hence have often been referred to as the “Kidneys of the Earth”.

Though they cover only around 6 per cent of the Earth’s land surface, 40 per cent of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands. The worrying thing is that they are disappearing three times faster than forests due to human activities and global heating.

“Wetlands are fantastically valuable multifunctional habitats—they nurture a great diversity of life, provide water and other resources, protect us from flooding and act as giant filters easing pollution,” says Corli Pretorius, Deputy-Director, United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre. “The loss of wetlands due to development pressure has been enormous, but these ecosystems can be restored to generate benefits for people and nature.”

Wetlands form an important part of nature. But nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history—and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, according to a landmark report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

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A purple heron in Lake Chilika, Orissa, India. The lake is a Ramsar site. The Global Environment Facility-funded Global Nutrient Cycle Project, executed by the Coordination Office of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities, contributed to the development of Ecosystem Health Report Cards for Lake Chilika in India and Laguna de Bay in the Philippines. The report cards assemble environmental quality data and integrate it into coherent communication packages to assist efforts to combat pollution. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

“The UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration 2021–2030 will help drive the conservation and restoration of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and wetlands will be very much part of the picture,” says Musonda Mumba, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) terrestrial ecosystems expert and chair of the Global Partnership for Forest and Landscape Restoration.

The Third United Nations Environment Assembly passed a groundbreaking and comprehensive Resolution on protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems. In it, Member States welcomed UNEP’s Framework for Freshwater Ecosystem Management, which supports countries to sustainably manage freshwater ecosystems. In doing so, it supports national and international goals related to freshwater ecosystems, such as certain Aichi Biodiversity Targets and Sustainable Development Goal 6, Target 6.6, which covers wetlands.

The theme for the next United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5), the world’s highest decision-making body on the environment, slated for February 2021, is Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the SDGs. 

Wetlands are also important as feeding and breeding grounds for migratory birds. The 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP13) will be held in Gandhinagar, India, on 15-22 February 2020 with the theme: “Migratory species connect the planet and together we welcome them home.”

For more information, please contact Musonda Mumba: Musonda.Mumba@un.org