When climate negotiators, scientists, conservationists, and others gather in Glasgow in November for the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), they must dramatically scale up their ambitions to reduce carbon emissions worldwide.
Over the past 20 months, countries have submitted their updated domestic commitments—known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs)—to help achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. But a recent UNFCCC analysis by suggests that the combined impact of these NDCs would fail to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This shows that these NDCs must be the foundation, rather than the ceiling, of countries’ climate action. The predicted shortfall also highlights the importance of the Paris Agreement’s “ratchet mechanism,” which requires that each government’s NDC be more ambitious than the last one it submitted.
In its capacity as president of COP26, the U.K. government has sought to elevate the role that nature-based solutions—defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems”—can play within enhanced climate ambition. Coastal wetland ecosystems, namely mangroves, seagrasses, and saltmarshes, are at the forefront of this dialogue.
Also known as “blue carbon” ecosystems, mangroves, seagrasses, and saltmarshes sequester globally significant amounts of carbon, mostly in their soils, advancing the Paris Agreement’s goal to “protect, enhance and restore natural carbon sinks.” Conversely, if degraded or destroyed, these ecosystems will emit carbon. Significantly, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognizes these emissions reduction benefits, meaning they can form a component of countries’ mitigation commitments under the Paris Agreement.
Coastal wetlands also absorb energy from storm surges, limit shoreline erosion, filter water, and provide nursery grounds for a range of species—services that help people mitigate, adapt to, and become more resilient to a changing climate.
This triple benefit is driving growing interest among governments in the potential of nature-based solutions, as evidenced by the multiple countries that have included commitments to protect and restore coastal wetlands in their updated NDCs.
Through international and in-country partnerships and field research programs, The Pew Charitable Trusts has provided technical advice and otherwise worked to support Belize, Costa Rica, and Seychelles, each of which included coastal wetland commitments in their NDCs. Importantly, these commitments are among the most ambitious, specific, and measurable of any submitted. For example:
- Belize has committed to at least double mangrove protection by adding at least 6,000 hectares of new mangrove protections by 2025 and a further 6,000 new hectares by 2030; restore an additional 2,000 hectares of mangroves by 2025 and a further 2,000 hectares by 2030; and develop a national seagrass policy to end the net loss of wetlands by 2025.
- Costa Rica has committed to protect 100% of its coastal wetlands by 2025; restore priority mangrove areas and develop a national mangrove restoration target by 2025; and develop new financing models to support implementation, including expansion of the Payment for Ecosystem Service model currently applied to terrestrial forests.
- Seychelles has committed to map the full extent and carbon storage levels of its seagrass ecosystems using pioneering technologies and locally led field validation, and in turn protect at least 50% of its seagrass and mangrove ecosystems by 2025, and 100% by 2030.
Although many of the first iterations of NDCs submitted shortly after the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 alluded to the potential of coastal wetlands and other nature-based solutions, the updated NDCs are the first to commit to realize this potential through specific, measurable outcomes.
Further, by protecting and restoring coastal wetlands, countries can offer crucial lessons on how other nature-based solutions might contribute to tackling climate change. Pew applauds the leadership of Belize, Costa Rica, and Seychelles coming into COP26, both in moving to immediately advance the goals of the Paris Agreement and in showing other governments what must be done to secure a sustainable future for nature—and people.
Thomas Hickey works on The Pew Charitable Trusts’ protecting coastal wetlands and coral reefs project.