Wetlands: An effective but undervalued climate solution

  • Article type Story
  • Publication date 02 Feb 2022

When asked to think about natural carbon sinks, what’s the first image that comes to mind? Forests, right? Although their role is hugely significant, the less thought of wetlands are equally, and in many cases, more effective carbon sinks.  

Coastal wetlands such as mangroves store carbon up to 55 times faster than tropical rainforests. Peatlands, which cover about three per cent of the planet’s land surface, sequester approximately 30 per cent of all land-based carbon – that’s twice the amount than all of the world’s forests combined. Yet, wetlands, from marshes to swamps to coral reefs, are disappearing three times faster than forests. 

In addition to the impacts of climate change such as sea level rise and ocean acidification that affect mangroves and coral reefs, land use change is the biggest driver of wetland loss and degradation. According to The Global Wetland Outlook: Special Edition 2021, over half of all the wetlands of international importance are negatively affected by agriculture. When wetlands are drained or burned for agriculture, they may lose some of their environmental service functions, such as for water retention and provisioning, and they turn from being carbon sinks to carbon sources. Centuries of stored carbon are released into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming. 

Healthy wetlands are critical to meeting sustainable development goals and to solving the biodiversity and climate crises. Wetland ecosystem services can help address both climate change mitigation and adaptation, play a core role in disaster risk reduction, provide adequate quantities of clean water, support food security, and secure millions of livelihoods around the world.  

The Green Climate Fund (GCF), as the world’s largest climate fund dedicated to helping developing countries raise and realise their climate ambitions in line with the Paris Agreement, has been scaling up its investments in wetlands by supporting large-scale initiatives that protect, restore, and promote their wise use.

In Uganda, GCF is working with UNDP to help communities transition to alternative livelihoods such as beekeeping to protect wetlands.

To date, GCF has 26 climate action projects in wetlands across three continents, targeting at least 10 Ramsar sites*. These climate investments are estimated to be worth USD 1.2 billion in GCF resources, covering a minimum surface area of 525,000 hectares of wetlands (approximately 181,837 hectares benefiting from restoration activities, 338,083 hectares under sustainable management, and 4,860 hectares under protection). 

The value of wetlands for people and the planet cannot be overstated. In order to meet the global climate challenge, wetland conservation and restoration must take place across the agriculture, environment, urban, and water sectors. 

*Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which is also known as The Convention on Wetlands.

By Angeli Mendoza 


As part of the first celebration of World Wetlands Day as a United Nations International Day, take a detailed look at the GCF projects that support wetlands (as of 31 December 2021):