This is a translation of the article “Los humedales, el milagro medioambiental contra el cambio climático” published on the EFEverde website about the Life Wetlands4Climate.
Wetlands, traditionally considered as wastelands and unhealthy areas, are actually environmentally very valuable for the multiple services they offer, including the capture and storage of atmospheric CO2.
The study and enhancement of these spaces is one of the objectives of the Life Wetlands4Climate, a project that aims to vindicate the role of wetlands as carbon sinks and reducers of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
This project, which will be carried out in wetlands of three Spanish autonomous communities until June 30, 2024, with the support of the European Commission and the coordination of the Global Nature Foundation (FGN), is based on the idea that the good management of wetlands not only contributes to the conservation of biodiversity, but can also help in the fight against climate change. On the contrary, an inadequate management of these wetlands, lakes or seasonal ponds, turns these ecosystems into emitters of greenhouse gases and, consequently, great enemies for the environment
LIFE Wetlands4Climate will analyze how much carbon a wetland is actually capable of sequestering based on its conservation status and will identify which management measures are the most appropriate for each wetland so that they achieve their maximum storage and climate mitigation capacity.
The sampling works will be carried out on pilot plots located in ten wetlands in the Valencian Community, Castilla y León, and Castilla-La Mancha. Different vegetation, soil and water management assessments will be implemented to see how the carbon balances behave in each wetland with respect to each of these measures, such as mowing, controlled grazing, management of water levels, or soil tillage.
More specifically, it will work on three types of variables, “with a first biogeochemical block related to the processes of the carbon cycle, those that capture it as photosynthesis of plants or algae and those that release it, such as respiration,” says Antonio Camacho, professor of ecology at the University of Valencia, in charge of the field work.
“But we not only want to know what are the rates of these changes associated with forms of management and states of conservation, but also why this happens, and for this we are going to study the main organisms that handle that matter and that energy, which are microorganisms. And we are going to study that with molecular scientific study techniques”, he emphasizes.
The third group of indicators are the classic ones associated with the estimation of biodiversity and ecological status. “An example are birds, which are a generalized indicator in wetlands, but also indicators that include the rest of the biological community, evaluating their role as a reliable indicator,” Camacho finally remarks. With the data obtained, “we will work to approve a methodology that can qualify for funds in the voluntary carbon market, based on the conservation of wetlands, and thus be able to accelerate the synergies between society and the economic world, promoting the transition to a decarbonized economy”, says Vanesa Sánchez, a member of the FGN and coordinator of the project.
The reference framework
In a context where there is little time left to achieve global carbon emission reduction targets – at least 45% by 2030 – and thus limit global warming to below 2°C, wetlands, according to the promoters of the project, constitute an added natural solution to contribute to the achievement of this vital objective.
They assure that the benefits of wetlands are undeniable: from the point of view of biodiversity they are an extraordinary natural heritage, hosting more than 100,000 known freshwater species, a number that is constantly increasing. To which must be added that, well preserved, they are not only reserves for biodiversity, they are also a guarantee of water and food production, as well as providing a territorial identity, a tourist attraction, spaces for research but also for leisure and relaxation.
In addition to being carbon sinks, wetlands can generate very interesting social and economic benefits for the areas in which they are located: they can generate employment, provide pasture for livestock and land for crops, help to sustain the climate of the area, and, of course, they are landscapes for tourism”, reveals Amanda del Río, technical director of the Global Nature Foundation.
Project work has begun in Palencia, in the Tierra de Campos region, in the Palencia wetlands of Boada and Nava de Fuentes. The latter is an artificial lagoon located in the same place where the so-called Mar de Campos was located, which was one of the most extensive wetlands in the Peninsula, up to five thousand hectares in rainy years, and which was drained in the decade of the sixties of the last century. After its recovery, in the 1990s, it was included, as habitat for waterfowl, in the list of Wetlands of International Importance of the Ramsar Convention.
In addition to these freshwater wetlands, the project will also work on Mediterranean coastal wetlands in the Valencian Community and on saline wetlands in Castilla-La Mancha.
Vanesa Sánchez, coordinator of the project Life Wetlands4Climate
Antonio Camacho, professor of ecology at the University of Valencia.