Wetlands are a source of essential ecosystems services to humanity and are a major contributor to human well-being all over the world. Wetland conservation therefore plays a significant role in a number of important goals set out by international conventions and processes at the global scale.
These Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and other global processes mention wetland habitat conservation and ecosystem service safeguarding numerous times underlining their importance for the international conservation community.
Six MEAs related to wetlands
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change stresses the importance of wetlands, especially peatlands, as global carbon sinks, and that their draining causes increases in net greenhouse gas emissions, which urgently needs to be addressed through wetland restoration activities.
This week, the potential of peatlands for climate change mitigation and the importance of data on the extent, character and status of wetlands will be discussed at a side event to the 22nd Session of the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals 6, 15 and 17 state the need to sustainably manage water, protect ecosystems that provide water and strengthen partnerships and technology for their preservation, respectively, by 2030.
The Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), specifically Target 5, 14 and 15, set goals for reduction in loss of natural habitat, restoration and safeguarding of essential ecosystem services and enhancing ecosystem resilience by 2020.
Article 24 of the Ramsar Convention requests that the Ramsar Secretariat submits assessments of wetland status and trends to the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and that the Scientific and Technical Review Panel and the Communication, Education, Participation, and Awareness Oversight Panel consider guidelines on national action plans to conserve and use wetlands wisely.
The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals Articles 3 and 5 concern protection of wetlands in the migratory range of endangered migratory species and the restoration of wetland habitats which are under threat from human pressures respectively.
Finally, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification specifies two actions needed to halt and reverse desertification, namely that wetland areas should be reclaimed and that wetland areas, which have dried out, or those threatened by desiccation, should be restored.
These six inter-dependent and international commitments clearly state the important role that wetlands play in many ecological functions, biodiversity and important ecosystem services. The Horizon 2020 project Satellite-based Wetland Observation Service (SWOS) project will help to generate, collate, and present improved knowledge, data, and understanding of wetlands, which in turn will make a major contribution to these MEAs and many other global processes which serve to protect wetlands.
How does the SWOS project improve the capabilities for global wetland monitoring and assessment?
Although the SWOS project doesn’t directly develop any global wetland maps or other global products, it will make major contributions to the improvement of global mapping, monitoring and assessment of these important ecosystems and their services by:
- Developing a sustainable and operational standardized monitoring service for wetland ecosystems based on Earth Observation (EO) satellites
- Providing a unique entry point for the project users to easily locate, access and connect wetland information through a geoportal
- Use the new possibilities offered by the EU Copernicus Sentinel satellites and further develop the approaches of the European Space Agency’s GlobWetland initiative
- Provision of an innovative service to four target audiences including global conventions and initiatives, local users, policy frameworks, donors and funders.
The tools, products and services developed and showcased will demonstrate the potential of EO-derived wetland products and indicators in support of policy- and decision-making on different levels. Furthermore, the SWOS team is designing and developing an IT infrastructure (portal, middleware, toolboxes, app) that will become available as the pilot infrastructure for a Global Wetland Observation System that is currently being developed in a newly formed GEO-Wetlands Initiative, led by SWOS partners and the Ramsar Secretariat. This initiative will strengthen global cooperation, target funding and establish the necessary structures for the sustainability of the developed toolboxes, products and services. Besides these technical developments, the SWOS project also plays a key role in translating user-requirements into services and in connecting the global wetlands community to the GEO-Wetlands Initiative.
These value-added elements will support stakeholders, namely wetland managers and policy-makers, among others, to stay focused and on target for the achievement of long-term goals of the said conventions and ultimately help in the conservation of the world’s remaining wetlands.
This article was written by Brian O’Connor and Matt Ling at UNEP-WCMC and Adrian Strauch at University of Bonn