A new circumpolar report highlights the importance of Arctic wetlands and provides recommendations for their management. Effective stewardship of Arctic wetlands, including conservation and restoration efforts, has an enormous potential to buy time by contributing to climate mitigation and adaptation, according to the report and policy recommendations adopted by the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Key findings and policy recommendations
The report, “Resilience and Management of Arctic Wetlands: Key findings and recommendations,” provides 13 key findings and a suite of 20 policy recommendations designed to maintain and strengthen the resilience of wetlands, all aimed at policymakers attending the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting.
Researchers from Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket), Stockholm University and CAFF, the Arctic Council’s biodiversity working group, led the work on the report and recommendations, which were published by the Arctic Council and CAFF. The report was produced within the Resilience and Management of Arctic Wetlands initiative 2017-2021. Many of the findings and recommendations are highly relevant both within and outside the Arctic, and Arctic States have an unusually important opportunity to act as role models for the sustainable use of wetlands.
The recommendations outline a number of actions that will help strengthen cooperation, facilitate collaboration, and accelerate efforts to restore and conserve Arctic wetland areas, including permafrost. This is the first time the Arctic states have engaged in a pan-Arctic effort for wetlands conservation. These actions could provide an important boost to efforts to curb climate change.
The fact that the actions support the implementation of the policy recommendations is important, in part because the Arctic Council has previously steered away from engaging on climate change, with the view that it is being addressed in other multi-lateral fora.
Tackling the degradation of Arctic wetlands and the emissions this generates are important Arctic-specific contributions to curbing the emissions that help drive climate change, and will provide insights and experience that reach beyond the Arctic region. This kind of action is possible, and especially important, with the change of administration in the US; the new Biden Administration has prioritized action to curb climate change, and has included wetlands restoration and conservation as part of the country’s climate mitigation plans.
Arctic wetlands, threatened by climate change and human impacts
Many of the world’s wetlands are found in the Arctic. They are globally important as wildlife habitats and migration pathways, and play a crucial role in maintaining healthy ecosystems, supporting biodiversity, and providing other ecosystem services. Less well known is the influence of wetlands on climate change. Arctic wetlands store a stunning amount of carbon, but this role is threatened by both climate change and increasing human impacts in the Arctic.
While many of Earth’s intact wetlands are in Arctic states, there are also very large expanses of degraded wetlands in Arctic and Boreal zones, which are affected by drainage and peat mining, for example. “Climate-change and permafrost thaw are causing irreversible change to these ecosystems and the only way to avoid large emissions of wetland greenhouse gases is to slow human emissions globally,” said Stockholm University researcher Gustaf Hugelius, one of the project leads. Restoration of damaged and degraded wetlands, which are leaking carbon, can help substantially reduce current emissions and slow this process.
According to Marcus Carson, SEI Senior Research Fellow and lead author of the background report on which the recommendations were based,
“the role of wetlands in climate change is underappreciated, but there are a few areas where ecosystem stewardship – restoration, conservation and wise use under changing conditions – can address so many critical issues at once, including climate mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity protection and water-based ecosystem services.”
— Marcus Carson, SEI Senior Research Fellow and lead author
The recommendations were developed in collaboration with, and with important input from, an international group including wetland experts, Indigenous people, policymakers and practitioners, with representation from across the Arctic.
The Resilience and Management of Arctic Wetlands initiative was initiated by the Swedish government in 2017 and is housed within the CAFF working group, with SEI in a lead role. Project co-chair David Schönberg Alm at Naturvårdsverket, notes:
“In addition to the CAFF project, Sweden has also launched a major wetlands initiative as a step towards reaching national and international goals to reduce carbon footprints, strengthen green infrastructure, conserve biodiversity and foster sustainable development. Through nature-based solutions such as restoration, rewetting and establishment of wetlands, Sweden is putting a special emphasis on wetlands during 2021-2023 as a way to achieve Sweden’s national goal of zero-emissions by 2045.”
The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group (CAFF) is the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council and consists of National Representatives assigned by each of the eight Arctic Council Member States, representatives of Indigenous Peoples’ organizations that are Permanent Participants to the Council, and Arctic Council observer countries and organizations. CAFF’s mandate is to address the conservation of Arctic biodiversity, and to communicate its findings to the governments and residents of the Arctic, helping to promote practices which ensure the sustainability of the Arctic’s living resources.