IUCN NL, the Netherlands
In fact, the global climate targets agreed upon in the Paris Agreement are binding. However, it is up to nations to implement policies which lead to reaching the climate target. This is challenging due to diverse national interests, historical responsibility disparities, economic concerns, technological and financial capacity gaps, enforcement and compliance issues, the importance of political will, the influence of public opinion, uncertainty in climate science, and competing national priorities. Overcoming these challenges requires political will at all levels (local to global). In this respect, the recent watering down of the various ambitions in the European Green Deal is no good news and may illustrate a trend of moving away from international cooperation to tackle the great climate and biodiversity challenges.
Effective advocacy involves a combination of scientific evidence, economic rationale, and public support. Within REWET we work on
- Education of policymakers, using clear concise information on the ecological, economic and social benefits of wetlands. And emphasize the role of wetlands in biodiversity conservation, flood control, water purification, and climate change mitigation;
- Highlighting the economic benefits of wetland restoration by demonstrating the potential economic gains of wetlands ecosystem services (or the costs of losing them)
- Showcasing successful restoration projects throughout the EU which highlight the positive outcomes and benefits for communities, climate and nature.
- Use scientific data to quantify how wetland restoration contributes to carbon sequestration and adaptation to changing environmental conditions
- In the Open Labs we engage with local stakeholders, NGOs, scientists and policymakers
- REWET will provide specific policy measures that support wetland restoration, such as incentives for landowners, regulations against wetland destruction, and funding for restoration projects. For this, we also collaborate with several organizations outside of the REWET consortium. Top of Form
Carbon and biodiversity offsetting policies could play a significant role in financing the upscaling of wetland restoration by providing economic incentives for restoration efforts. These policies are designed to compensate for the negative environmental impacts of certain activities, such as carbon emissions or habitat destruction, by investing in projects that generate equivalent positive environmental outcomes.
Although still in its infancy there are some examples of carbon offsetting schemes based on wetland restoration, such as the Peatland Code - a voluntary standard for UK peatland projects wishing to market the climate benefit of restoration. Also in other EU countries carbon payment schemes have been introduced to support peatland conservation and restoration.
Due to the high potential for carbon sequestration in peatland restoration or blue carbon projects in coastal ecosystems, the relative costs per ton of CO2 can be much lower compared to conventional tree planting projects. The additional advantage of rewetting peatlands is the immediate impact on reducing emissions from peat oxidation. However, currently, such projects are still largely dependent on the voluntary carbon market. In theory, upscaling wetland restoration could be boosted if it is prioritized as a measure under the compliance carbon market.
While carbon and biodiversity offsetting policies offer potential financing mechanisms for wetland restoration, it's crucial to ensure that these initiatives are well-designed, transparent, and effectively monitored to achieve the intended outcomes. Addressing challenges such as additionality (ensuring that the restoration project results in additional conservation benefits) and permanence (ensuring the long-term viability of the restored wetlands) will be vital for the success of such financing strategies.
The potential role of the JTF in peatland restoration is big as an enabler for development toward a sustainable and low-carbon future. Whether the JTF is used to favour the conservation and restoration of peatlands depends on political choices in the Member States, the specific priorities of the regions involved and the extent to which peatland restoration aligns with the overall goals of the Just Transition Mechanism. For example, in Finland, the JTF now supports the phase-out of peat extraction in 14 regions that substantially depend on the peat extraction industry. The funds will be directed at developing jobs in the green economy, new green technology solutions and related new business opportunities that would enable the phase-out of peat extraction and the restoration of peatlands. In Ireland, the JTF is supporting around 50 peatland rehabilitation projects totalling thousands of hectares. It supported the country's sole industrial-scale peat harvesting company to transform into a waste processing company which is now supporting the restoration of its former concession areas.
There is actually a lot that regions can do to accelerate wetland restoration. In order to be effective this requires a comprehensive and collaborative approach involving various stakeholders, including local governments, communities, environmental organizations, and businesses. Regional governments can for example:
- Establish and enforce clear policies and regulations that protect existing wetlands and promote wetland restoration (e.g. zoning laws, land use planning and regulations against the degradation or destruction of wetlands);
- Encourage restoration efforts by landowners and communities (e.g. financial incentives like tax breaks, grants, subsidies);
- Fully integrate the conservation and restoration of wetlands restoration goals into regional land-use planning and into climate adaptation plans;
- Engage local communities in the restoration process. Foster a sense of ownership and stewardship by involving residents in planning, decision-making, and implementation;
- Coordinate wetland restoration efforts at regional and national levels. Establish networks and partnerships to share knowledge, resources, and best practices among different regions facing similar challenges;
- Encourage and incentivize farmers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices that minimize the impact on wetlands. Practices such as buffer zones, agroforestry, and organic farming can help protect water quality and wetland ecosystems;
- Focus on restoring riparian zones along rivers and streams. Healthy riparian areas contribute to improved water quality and provide essential habitat for many species. Restoration efforts in these zones can have cascading benefits for wetlands downstream;
- Conduct public awareness campaigns to educate residents about the value of wetlands and the importance of their restoration;
- Establish demonstration projects which clearly show the public benefits of wetland restoration;
- Allocate resources to training and capacity building of local communities, government officials, and restoration practitioners;
- Carefully monitor the restoration efforts undertaken.
By adopting a multi-faceted and inclusive approach, regions can significantly enhance their capacity to restore and sustain wetland ecosystems. The key is to create a supportive policy environment, engage local communities, and foster collaboration among diverse stakeholders.
Such a policy aligns with the principle of "polluter pays" and creates economic incentives for companies to engage in restoration efforts. This could be feasible but the model may not be ideal because it would still allow for further wetland loss. Therefore, ideally, such policies should be combined with strict legislation and enforcement regarding the conservation and sustainable management of wetlands. Having a clear policy framework creates legal certainty for companies and facilitates regulatory compliance. A robust monitoring and verification mechanism, including independent audits, must be in place to ensure companies accurately report their impact on wetlands and fulfil their restoration obligations.
The new EU restoration law is crucial for wetlands. Despite the watering down of the ambition level, it is still the first legal framework that provides goals for wetland restoration at the EU level. 90% of habitats in poor condition need to be restored by 2050. The regulation also includes specific restoration targets for peatlands under agricultural use: 30% of such peatlands must be restored by 2030, 40 % by 2040 and 50 % by 2050. A third of this percentage needs to be rewetted. Under certain conditions, Member States can be exempted from these targets, so the question now is how member states will implement and enforce the regulation.
There are significant differences among EU member states in how they approach the protection and restoration of wetlands. These variations stem from factors such as diverse legal frameworks, national policies, ecosystem types, land use practices, cultural attitudes, scientific expertise, funding availability, international commitments, local governance structures, and climate conditions. Despite overarching EU directives, member states interpret and implement wetland protection measures differently based on their unique ecological, cultural, and socio-economic contexts. In order to scale up wetland restoration significant efforts will be needed to harmonize strategies and share best practices within the EU.
Non-binding rules, such as voluntary guidelines, can play a role in promoting restoration efforts by providing flexibility and encouraging participation. However, their effectiveness is limited compared to binding regulations and commitments. The comprehensive upscaling of restoration efforts often requires a combination of approaches, including binding regulations, incentive mechanisms, public-private partnerships, scientific research, and community engagement. While non-binding rules have their place, integrating them into a broader framework enhances the likelihood of achieving meaningful and sustained restoration outcomes.