UNFCCC makes major step towards incentivising wetland restoration

   By Malcolm Dowden, Solicitor and Environmental Law Consultant

Despite widespread disappointment at the outcome of last year’s climate change summit in Copenhagen, quiet but significant progress has been made on issues such as reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) and on allowing countries to reduce emissions through halting the degradation of drained wetlands.

Conservative estimate show that global CO2 emissions from drained peatsoils in wetlands amount to 2 Gton per year (6% of all global anthropogenic CO2 emissions), of which at least 500 Mton is emitted by developed countries that have signed the Kyoto Protocol. Many of those emissions could be reduced by rewetting. However because wetland emissions do not need to be accounted for, there are no incentives for countries to save or restore these carbon rich areas.

Renewed talks in Bonn have produced a decision to revise the methodological guidance given to countries to enable emission accounting to cover emission reductions from wetland restoration. Reliable guidance will enable countries to calculate their emission reductions accurately to account for the emissions or emission reductions from drained and degraded carbon rich wetlands.

“Once emissions and removals from wetlands can be accounted for under the Kyoto Protocol the entire finance stream for wetland management will change. Rewetting these important ecosystems and implementing sustainable use like paludiculture (wet agriculture) will become financially attractive”, says Susanna Tol who follows the negotiations on behalf of Wetlands International.

The timetable set out in the Bonn decision looks beyond the next major UN Climate change summit in Mexico, December 2010, and works towards a voluntary trial of revised reporting guidelines commencing in 2012, with mandatory application of those guidelines in 2015.

In the meantime, Wetlands International and other environmental NGOs aim to press in Mexico for a decision under the Kyoto protocol allowing emissions from degrading peatland could be accounted for under the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) provisions of Kyoto.  Where emissions are accounted for under LULUCF, reductions can be incentivised through the Kyoto mechanisms.

Accounting may be mandatory or voluntary.  For mandatory activities, Parties must account for emissions and removals from a land use activity.  For voluntary activities, a Party may elect to account for the emissions and removals relating to a land use activity. To date, all land use activities under article 3.4 of the Kyoto Protocol (forest management, cropland management, grazing land management) are voluntary.  Consequently, the primary objective for Mexico is to have wetland management added to that voluntary list.