A new report on the Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity for Water and Wetlands urges a major shift in our attitudes to wetlands - to recognise their value in delivering water, raw materials and food, essential for life, and crucial for maintaining people’s livelihoods and the sustainability of the world’s economies.
The report presents insights on critical water-related ecosystem services in order to encourage additional policy momentum, business commitment, and investment in the conservation, restoration, and wise use of wetlands. It shows how recognizing, demonstrating, and capturing the values of ecosystem services related to water and wetlands can lead to better informed, more efficient, and fairer decision-making.
The “nexus” between water, food and energy has been recognised as one of the most fundamental relationships and challenges for society. Wetlands are a fundamental part of local and global water cycles and are at the heart of this nexus, providing numerous ecosystem services to humankind. Nonetheless, wetlands continue to be degraded or lost and, in many cases, policies and decisions do not sufficiently take into account these interconnections and interdependencies. However, the full value of water and wetlands needs to be recognized and integrated into decision-making in order to meet our future social, economic and environmental needs. Using the maintenance and enhancement of the benefits of water and wetlands is, therefore, a key element in a transition to a sustainable economy.
For example, improved water management practices allowed the restoration of Lake Ichkeul in Tunisia, resulting in the doubling of the number of tourists since 2005. The promotion of the lake as a tourist destination helped raise awareness of the value of the lake ecosystems and the importance of the wise use of wetlands. It also generated new sources of income for the Park management and conservation and allowed establishment of basic training and credit schemes to increase the involvement of local communities in tourism activities.
“It is poor people who suffer the most when biodiversity is lost, because their survival depends on the wealth of nature. When we destroy wetlands, we disrupt nature’s water cycle and its ability to provide water for households and farms, so inadvertently we add to the suffering of the poor. This report reinforces the message that restoration and protection of wetlands is vital to address today’s most pressing challenges of water and food security, climate change, and poverty. “TEEB Water and Wetlands” calls on development policy-makers to recognize these ecosystem values and put in place policy responses that promote the conservation and restoration of wetlands” says TEEB Study Leader and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Pavan Sukhdev, currently Chair of the TEEB Advisory Board.
The TEEB report reinforces this year’s World Wetlands Day message that, despite the evidence that wetlands provide huge benefits to people – such as clean drinking water, facilitating irrigation for agriculture, enabling flood regulation, as well as supporting biodiversity and industries such as fisheries and tourism – their value is still underestimated and wetlands continue to be degraded or destroyed at an alarming pace. An estimated 50 percent of wetlands were lost during the 20th century due to factors such as intensive agricultural production, water extraction for domestic and industrial use, urbanization, infrastructure and industrial development and pollution.
“Everyone in the world depends on water for our life, livelihoods and business, and coastal and inland wetlands are the natural infrastructure that manage and provide our water for us” says Nick Davidson, Deputy Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention. “This report confirms just how hugely valuable our remaining wetlands are to all of us, yet we continue to damage and destroy them at our increasing peril.”
The report was launched on the occasion of World Wetlands Day by the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Wetlands International and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), with the support of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and the Geneva Environment Network (GEN) secretariat. World Wetlands Day (WWD) is celebrated worldwide every year to deliver the message that healthy wetlands, and the ecosystem services they provide, are vital for life and its diversity.