Ilulissat, the third-largest city in Greenland, north of the Arctic Circle.

Icebergs, midwinter twilight and full moon in Ilulissat, Greenland. Ilulissat was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. Photo: Timothy Allen / Getty Images.

A crucial Arctic ecosystem, but its role is underappreciated

Arctic wetlands store an enormous amount of global carbon, offer crucial support for global biodiversity, and provide important ecosystem services for indigenous and other communities. They also constitute considerable parts of the Earth’s remaining wilderness areas. Yet, with rapidly warming temperatures and a dynamic human footprint, these ecosystems are changing fundamentally, bringing both Arctic peoples and ecosystems closer to potential tipping points.

Current knowledge of wetlands ecosystems is more than sufficient to support raising the priority level of Arctic wetlands restoration and stewardship. When we say stewardship, we mean to balancing conservation and use in order to ensure that the benefits we receive from wetlands are sustainable for the long haul at local, regional and global scales. Unfortunately, important gaps that impede stewardship remain.

Prioritizing for best results

Better knowledge is needed about which specific types and locations of wetlands should be prioritized for restoration and protection. This would help to prioritize areas where effort and financial investment could produce maximum benefit for climate, biodiversity and people.

Strengthened stewardship through engaging indigenous and local communities

A better understanding is also needed of how to guide the organization of conservation and restoration efforts in order to maximize the benefits from ecosystem services and strengthen wetlands ecosystem resilience. For example, participation by indigenous and local communities in decision making, restoration and stewardship of Arctic wetlands is widely considered to be a crucial ingredient for success. A growing number of wetlands experts are calling for indigenous and community participation in conservation and restoration efforts.

Strengthening and streamlining policy

Policy aimed at protecting Arctic wetlands is expansive, yet evidence suggests three key challenges to policy being as effective as it could be. These include:

  • inconsistency and/or conflict between policies and goals addressed to different aspects of wetlands,
  • the distribution of responsibility for policy implementation into agencies and departments with differing, sometimes contrasting missions,
  • challenges in achieving effective communications between responsible agencies and departments.

Financial resources for restoration and stewardship

The greatest benefits of restoration and stewardship of Arctic wetlands often come in the form of broader public goods, in the form of less carbon emissions, habitat for key species and areas used intermittently for recreation and subsistence. As a result, wetland restoration and stewardship are often publicly financed or incentivized. All Arctic countries have financing mechanisms, yet much could be gained by mapping these, learning across borders, engaging the private sector engagement and ramping up efforts.

Funders, partners and collaborators

The project is funded through the Arctic II Initiative of the Belmont Forum: Resilience in Rapidly Changing Arctic Systems.

Partners, collaborators and funders are displayed in the drop-down menu on the left hand side of this page.

Enhancing social and ecosystem resilience

A central element of community resilience is the capacity to self-organize and effectively engage; a resource that needs to be used to remain viable. By strengthening social and human capital, and by supporting this engagement, community resilience will improve.

The goal of enhancing social and ecosystem resilience will be pursued by:

  • Strengthen knowledge needed to identify the types of wetlands areas where restoration is likely to have high benefit for key wetland ecosystem functions and services, and develop suitable metrics and monitoring methods
  • Improve knowledge of indigenous/traditional wetlands uses & approaches to stewardship
  • Synthesize knowledge across natural and social sciences and indigenous knowledge, and strengthen links between knowledge holders, policymakers and practitioners
  • Identify ways to replicate or scale up good practice examples of community engagement in wetlands restoration and stewardship to strengthen community capacity and resilience
  • Research and identify private and public finance opportunities, and potential models for financing, and explore incentives such as including wetlands restoration as NDCs under the Paris Agreement
  • Strengthen understanding of wetlands’ role in climate change, mitigation, biodiversity and water services.

These goals and activities have been co-designed and developed within a transdisciplinary consortium of knowledge holders, policy experts and practitioners.

This project seeks to better understand how deliberate actions can serve to bolster the resilience of both the wetland ecosystem being acted upon, and of the communities engaging in those actions (B. Walker et al. 2002).

It will identify and analyze ways to pursue restoration and stewardship to contribute substantially to wetland resilience, climate mitigation, and other essential ecosystem services (including provision of food and water, biodiversity and culture).

Social-ecological system model:

Social-ecological system model
Image source: Arctic Resilience Report 2016.

Contact

Marcus Carson is the Lead Investigator, Nelson Ekane is the Project Manager and Ylva Rylander is the Communications Officer of this project. Aaron Maltais is engaged through the Stockholm Sustainable Finance Centre .

For suggestions, requests, or contributions, please email to savearcticwetlands@sei.org.