There is limited time to save the world’s wetlands and mitigate the impact of climate change, environmental leaders warned at the opening to a worldwide conference on wetlands.
Wetlands are being destroyed at three times the rate of forests, even though they can store twice as much carbon.
Wetland loss will have heavy economic, security and social consequences, cautioned Martha Urrego, the Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
“If we lose wetlands we lose our possibility to achieve sustainable and equitable development,” said Ms Urrego. “We know that the demand for water is increasing, that we have a predicted gap in water supply and that if we don’t take care of wetlands we are going to endanger the possibility of achieving solutions that benefit all.”
Ms Urrego was speaking in Dubai before the opening of the 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
The week-long event takes place every three years and will be attended by more than 1,000 scientists and policymakers.
It was opened on Monday night by the Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi. This year’s theme is wetlands for a sustainable urban future.
“To achieve a seamless, sustainable transition to cities and to capitalise on the wealth of opportunities this transition brings, we need to move wetland conservation to the top of our priority list,” said the minister. “Wetlands help mitigate floods, pollution and climate change and replenish ground aquifers, and are an excellent source of food and raw materials, in addition to providing job opportunities for hundreds of millions of people around the world.”
The UAE is one of 170 signatories to the convention and has eight Ramsar sites recognised as wetlands of international importance.
Wetlands purify the air and water, regulate humidity levels and water flow, prevent flooding and drought, serve as nurseries and sanctuaries for wildlife and protect shorelines from erosion and natural disasters.
Yet their environmental superpowers are usually overlooked.
“Historically, wetlands had been associated with places that were unused or wastelands, or seen as places of illness or places that need to be put in order or civilised,” said Ms Urrego. “That led to the draining of so many wetlands and has cultivated the idea that wetlands are not important or that they can be used in a better way.”
“All the water we use comes directly or indirectly form wetlands,” she said. “That is to say that they purify water. Wetlands are the kidneys of the earth.”