Coastal wetlands and coral reefs are among the planet’s most biologically rich ecosystems, serving as nurseries and feeding grounds for a vast array of fish, birds, and marine mammals. By acting as a barrier, these habitats also help protect shorelines from climate impacts such as sea level rise and storms. And coastal wetlands in particular—such as mangroves, seagrass beds, and salt marshes—can play a role in global efforts to mitigate climate change because they are highly effective at sequestering carbon.
Despite their importance, these critical ecosystems are in danger of disappearing during the next century because of threats such as coastal development, poor land use practices, and rising ocean temperatures. Half of the planet’s mangroves have been lost in the past 50 years,1 and human-related impacts have destroyed at least a third of the world’s coral reefs in recent decades.2
Urgent actions are needed to conserve coastal habitats, and the 2015 Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change provides a mechanism to secure commitments to protect these valuable ecosystems. The 197 parties that adopted the agreement pledged to reduce carbon emissions and build resilience to the effects of climate change. Each country’s commitment—its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC)—should be ambitious, specific, and measurable and be updated every five years.
Given the unique role that coastal habitats play in reducing climate impacts and absorbing carbon, countries can include protections for these habitats in their NDCs as nature-based solutions for achieving some of their climate goals.
Once countries have made commitments to protect coastal wetlands and coral reefs, they can receive funding to help them implement on-the-ground measures to ensure lasting protection.
The Pew Charitable Trusts will work with governments, scientists, and civil society to integrate coastal wetlands and coral reefs into countries’ NDCs to better protect these vital habitats worldwide.
This fact sheet was updated on Oct. 2, 2019, to include new data about the amount of carbon that can be stored in mangrove forests.