Wetlands areas have often been considered wastelands – areas thought largely useless, even hazardous, due to their waterlogged or water-covered condition through significant periods of the year. This widespread misunderstanding led to wetlands being drained, landfilled, even paved over, depriving both people and nature of wetlands’ many critically important ecosystem functions and benefits to people.
Effective management of Arctic wetlands, including restoration and conservation, holds enormous potential to contribute significantly to climate adaptation and mitigation, protect biodiversity and produce other benefits for both Arctic and non-Arctic peoples and society. Moreover, Arctic wetlands are globally important, through their role as bird habitats and migration pathways, and linkages with climate regulation and other global ecosystem functions.
Almost half the worlds wetlands are located in the Arctic where they make up as much as 60% of all Arctic ecosystems and include a complex mix of peatlands, shallow open waters, wet tundra’s and seashore areas. These areas provide a variety of crucial ecosystems functions and serve as forage and breeding habitats for sensitive wildlife, especially migratory birds and numerous fish species. They play a vital role in supporting the livelihoods and traditional lifestyles of indigenous people through their use for herding, harvesting food (berries) and extracting raw materials for a diverse range of products. Wetlands also store large amounts of carbon in frozen peat and soil. However, these crucial ecosystems are changing at a perilously fast pace, with Arctic wetlands becoming drier due to climate-change driven permafrost degradation and growing pressures from increased human presence. Also, climate change induced permafrost thaw is likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands.
The project Resilience and Management of Arctic Wetlands, is an initiative led by Sweden under the Arctic Council Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Working Group. The project is organized by the Stockholm Environment Institute and guided by an international Steering Committee comprising representatives from the Arctic states and indigenous organisations. Funding is being provided by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the Swedish Ministry of the Environment and Energy.
The project aims to strengthen engagement on the roles and functions of wetlands as a resource to support sustainable development and resilience in the Arctic. The overall project goal is to use insights from scientific analysis to produce recommendations to support policy development and further develop management strategies to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services that wetlands provide.
The Arctic Wetlands project is composed of three phases and uses a social-ecological systems perspective that approaches humans in nature as interacting elements in a single system.
In the first stage wetlands inventories across the Arctic were examined. Inventories provide important information for management and policy making. They serve as a baseline for future policy measures. According to the Ramsar Global Wetland Outlook 2018, there has been a steady increase in the number of countries producing national wetland inventories, reaching a reported 44% of Parties* with completed inventories and 29% in progress by 2018. In this first stage of the project, scientific research on Arctic wetlands concerning key issues such as importance for biodiversity, hydrology, impacts of a warming climate and carbon storage was reviewed, including a preliminary mapping on which ways these wetlands are essential to indigenous livelihoods. Incorporating local and indigenous knowledge is essential in the management of wetlands. Knowledge gaps and needs were also identified in this first stage.
The second and current stage of the project is examining regulatory efforts and management approaches aimed at maintaining important wetlands functions through the use of illustrative case studies. The insights gained through these case studies will deliver significantly deeper insights and actionable recommendations for policy and management that will be developed in the third phase of the project. The second phase will continue to compile wetland inventories and explore the knowledge of livelihoods uses of wetlands by Arctic Indigenous peoples in collaboration with the Sámi Council and other Permanent Participant organizations of the Arctic Council.
This second phase includes 3 core work packages: 1) assembling wetland inventories across the Arctic and identifying ways of making them comparable; 2) develop representative case studies to identify effective regulatory and management tools for restoring and protecting wetlands and effectively balancing conservation and use; 3) a workshop to engage with relevant experts and to evaluate the compiled case studies and inventories, discuss further policy engagement.
The third stage, focused on developing recommendations for policy initiatives and management strategies, will commence in the fall of 2019.
* Parties within the Ramsar Convention.