The UN’s Decade of Ecosystem Restoration: The Secret, Soggy Places that Delegates Are Protecting
Ecosystem restoration was the theme of this year’s Environment Day on 5th June, starting the UN’s decade on this theme. There are many different and wonderful ecosystems that need protection and restoration. As the Mock COP treaty states, protecting biodiversity is key, and this means more than just forests. Wetlands have a vital role to play in tackling climate change as well as mitigating its effects by providing flood defenses, yet they are shrinking; a third of these lands have been lost since 1970.
Luckily, restoration is beginning to happen. In Finland – where delegates recently met with their education minister – people have grasped the surprising power of swamps. Peatland, also known as swamps or bogs, is land made of partially decaying organic matter. Though once sadly drained, this land is thankfully being replaced in state-owned forests in the country.
These lands may not sound pretty but they are pretty powerful: containing 30% of all carbon on land, twice as much as forests. When this Finnish ecosystem, like 50% of peatlands worldwide, was disrupted, it accelerated climate change by turning these carbon stores into emitters. When damaged peat belches out all the carbon it once held, damaged peatlands produce 5% of human carbon emissions despite being 0.3% of the earth’s surface. This land can be found across the globe: Papua New Guinea – where Mock COP delegates are currently working with the department of climate change – has mountains covered in peat.
Coastal restoration is key as well. In Nigeria, our delegates got the Minister for Environment to agree that “Protection of biodiversity will be a priority.” This is important as Nigeria also has another amazing ecosystem: coastal wetlands. Another great carbon sink, the journal Nature suggests that mangrove forests alone contain 22 billion tonnes of carbon – two years of global emissions. This could be lost through further degradation, once again turning helpful ecosystems into harmful ones by releasing this carbon into the atmosphere.
All lands have hope of regeneration through a mixture of “passive” restoration – leaving areas to restore by themselves – and more expensive but quicker “active” restoration we can sequester (remove) tonnes of carbon from our atmosphere. However, every place is different and any plans for restoration should include vital indigenous knowledge; often the most important land is theirs and their expertise should not be overlooked. Indigenous people comprise less than 5% of the world population yet their territories contain and protect 80% of biodiversity worldwide.
Mock COP is currently facilitating a project where images from the frontlines of the climate crisis will be captured by young people from around the globe and shown to leaders at COP26 this coming November. It will paint a stark picture of environmental devastation that many must deal with daily. Yet the future could be so much brighter. If we pay attention to these vital ecosystems, we have the chance to rebuild our world and become a generation that leaves the environment in a better state than we received it.