Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Wetlands and Sea Level Rise—No Decision is a Decision

This week the COP 15 climate change talks sponsored by the United Nations in Copenhagen provide an opportunity for the world to make progress reaching agreement on strategies to reduce the future impacts of climate change.   Mitigation and adaptation are the terms used for the two major kinds of activity under discussion. 

Mitigation in the climate change context includes actions to slow the process of global climate change by lowering the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Examples encompass everything from reducing the use of fossil fuels, to sequestering carbon by restoring wetlands or planting trees.

Adaptation involves developing ways to protect people and places by reducing their exposure to climate impacts. Examples of adaptation include building seawalls or relocating buildings to higher ground to protect communities located along coasts and rivers against increased flooding due to storms.

Wetlands are important to both mitigation and adaptation strategies.  Wetlands can and do sequester significant amounts of carbon.  Research into how different kinds of wetlands can be managed to sequester carbon has lagged behind other mitigation methods until very recently, but is now receiving increased attention nationally and internationally. For example a recent study found that certain wetlands store 500 billion metric tons of carbon and found that preservation of these wetlands should be a priority.

Wetlands can also be used to adapt to changes in climate by providing area to store and buffer against floods and drought.

In the U.S. much of the discussion at the federal level and in states has addressed mitigation, particularly ways to reduce greenhouse gases.  Not surprisingly communities have also encouraged mitigation.  They have been more concerned with adaptation, but uncertain of what actions to take.  One example of a report identifies adaptation strategies that states and communities are considering; this is included in an adaptation strategy by the Virginia Commission on Climate Change.

Climate change is happening and the reality is that “no decision” or more accurately “no change in the status quo” is a decision with consequences.  This is illustrated by a recent report on the “Likelihood of Shoreline Protection,” which includes a series of detailed maps of the east coast from Rhode Island to Florida.  These maps show the extent of shoreline communities are currently committed to protecting and assumes that protection will require activities to armor the shoreline against further erosion and encroachment.  The authors collected the most current information available about local zoning and development plans, and identified areas that were fully developed or planned for development, as well as those areas where no protection (no armoring of the shoreline likely) was planned.  It is easy to review the map and interpret how the wetlands between the developed areas and the water are likely to be lost.  The maps do not predict or recommend future actions; they only reflect current commitments. 

It is encouraging to find all of these new tools for understanding the landscapes where we live that can help us plan for the future.  The next step is to take advantage of these resources and make decisions that will leverage wetlands and natural resource protection in conjunction with human welfare and property.  Best of all would be to pursue strategies that complement and reinforce both goals.

Links to the information described above and other useful sources of information can be found on the following websites.

ASWM’s Wetlands and Global Climate Change website (updated weekly)
 Recommendations for a National Wetlands and Climate Change Initiative

Bogs, swamps and mires help keep 500 billion metric tons of carbon out of the atmosphere, so preserving peatlands is emerging as a new priority

Summary of Natural Resources/Shoreline Adaptation Strategy Recommendations of
the Virginia Commission on Climate Change

The Likelihood of Shore Protection
Response to Ocean Carbon Central to Climate Challenge (Nov. 18)
EPA Finds Green House Gases Endanger Public Welfare
Sea Level Rise Explorer (please read the fine print; current sea level rise predictions are around 2-5 feet by 2100 and the confidence level is 90% of the maps is 5 meters or less.  Nevertheless this is a great tool for understanding the relative vulnerability of different part of the world to sea level rise.

Pew Climate Change Center (lots of information here; the links below are all part of Pew’s website)
Copehagen Climate Conference COP 15
Global ClimateChange Impactes in the United States – Report of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (June 16, 2009)
State and Regional News
Hill Briefed on Three Regional Cap and Trade Initiatives
Cap and Trade Regional Initiatives Map State by State Climate Change Initiatives (click on individual states on the map)

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