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How Protecting Wetlands Can Help the Climate
By Tim Schauenberg
Although wetlands cover less than 4% of the Earth's surface, 40% of all animal species live or reproduce in them. One-third of all organic matter on our planet is stored in places like the gigantic Pantanal wetland in western Brazil, the Sudd floodplain in southern Sudan or the Wasjugan Marsh in western Siberia.
Wetlands filter, store and supply the planet with water and food — more than a billion people worldwide depend on them for sustenance.
They also play a key role in regulating the planet's climate, according to James Dalton of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), an umbrella organization of numerous international governmental and non-governmental organizations.
Globally, peatlands and peat soils store twice as much carbon as the total biomass of all the world's forests combined.
From Storing CO2 to Releasing It
Dams, groundwater usage, increasing water pollution, and industrial and agricultural production have reduced wetlands worldwide by 35% since 1970. Latin America tops the table with an estimated 60% of areas destroyed — not including losses in the Orinoco River region of Colombia and Venezuela and the Amazon. In Asian countries, about a third of all wetlands have been destroyed, and in Africa more than 40% have been lost.
The biggest contributor to rising water stress worldwide is agriculture. According to World Bank figures, 70% of the annual drinking water demand flows into agriculture. Much of the water is used to raise livestock and grow livestock feed, such as soybeans.
The draining of areas for peat extraction is doubly damaging to the climate. Not only is CO2 storage capacity destroyed, but "When you drain these lands, you also release the gases that are stored in these areas," Dalton warned. That includes methane, a gas that is particularly harmful to the climate.
As temperatures rise and wetlands dry out, they can go from vast greenhouse gas stores to greenhouse gas sources. When they are still wet, they store carbon. But if they dry, decomposition of the biological material begins. This process releases carbon. This is also true of permafrost soils in Antarctica and Canada. As temperatures rise, the melting accelerates. Their disappearance would release about as much CO2 as if the United States continued burning fossil fuel at the current annual rate until 2100. Record temperatures in Siberia last year also caused huge fires on peat soils. Burning peat releases 10 to 100 times more CO2 than burning trees.
Wetlands Can Help Combat Natural Disasters
Climate change is rendering environmental disasters such as storms and floods more severe. Wetlands such as mangrove forests and salt marshes and swamps near the coast can help counteract this.
Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz calculated that salt marshes and swamps reduced the damage to homes from Hurricane Sandy on the US East Coast in 2012 by a total of $625 million. In some places, damage was averted by as much as 70%. The reason: Wetlands reduce the force of the waves. Aside from the ecological contribution, "that's the value of our wetlands today — and that's why we need to invest in better protection and make sure they're protected," said Siddharth Narayan, one of the study's authors. "If they are lost, the damage we see will increase."
Can Lost Wetlands Be Restored?
The process of restoring destroyed wetlands is long and costly.
After almost 10 years, some 600 hectares (148 acres) of salt marshes and parts of a natural lagoon in the east of the UK were restored in 2018. More than 500 years ago, people drained the area for agriculture, largely destroying the natural wetland. Aside from providing a natural habitat for countless plants and animals, the wetland eases the pressure on the water conservation dams. The value to coastal protection alone is estimated at a billion pounds.
"Of course, restoration will be needed in many places. But if we can protect what we have for now, I think we should focus on that," Narayan said.
"We can't replicate these systems," added Dalton of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The irony, he said, is that we are de facto destroying some of the most efficient systems for achieving climate and biodiversity goals. Peaty forests in the Congo, the Amazon, Indonesia and Siberia, and mangrove forests urgently require better protection, Dalton said. To date, less than one-fifth of the world's wetlands, covering an area the size of Mexico, are protected. The majority of this area is in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
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While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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