The European Green Deal and the new Biodiversity Strategy for Healthy wetlands: the Mediterranean case

On 22 October 2020, Plan Bleu and ETC UMA co-organized the first capitalization event for MBPC members on the theme of “Healthy wetlands: our best natural answer to the biodiversity, water and climate crises – the Mediterranean case” with the collaboration of the Interreg Mediterranean and the Interreg Balkan programmes.

This event was held during EU Green Week 2020, and it was led by the ETC-UMA and the UN Environment Regional Activity Centre Plan Bleu organized on 22 October in the frame of the EU Green Week has raised the flag on the need for the adoption of a new, more realistic definition for wetlands that affects sectoral policies at all levels.

The webinar was divided in 3 sessions that addressed the following topics:

Session 1- Setting the baseline: science and evidence

Session 2- Inspiring initiatives and remaining challenges

Session 3- How can we move faster and more effectively to ensure the future of Mediterranean wetlands?

The main goal from the session was to highlight the contribution of biodiversity to our economy and society, including the essential role it plays in stimulating sustainable recovery from the crisis. EU Green Week provided an appropriate framework for the following key messages and recommendations:

1) Mediterranean wetlands urgently need:

-Agreed and ecologically sound criteria to classify and map wetland ecosystems; and

-A comprehensive regional policy framework geared to their restoration and conservation. 

2) Wetlands offer crucial solutions to the biodiversity, water and climate crises. Healthy wetlands in particular will have a vital role to play in the future, providing natural protection against flooding, erosion and saltwater incursion (in the case of coastal wetlands) while absorbing atmospheric carbon (healthy wetlands capture carbon at a rate 10-20 times greater than temperate or boreal forests).

3) Diverse wetland restoration and conservation work is already taking place in the field, with important progress being made on every level from governance to finance, but their overall condition is still worsening. To change and transform them onto a positive trajectory, we need to take stock of all the individual initiatives and integrate them into a sustainable long-term regional strategy, capitalizing on positive results and enhancing collaboration and knowledge-sharing between wetlands experts, with strong support from governments, public authorities, users and related economic sectors.

4) To overcome the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss in Mediterranean wetlands, the European Green Deal and the new Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 need to take clear steps to support their “ecosystem-based” monitoring and restoration, with clear objectives and mechanisms set for 2030 and for 2050. 

5) Public support and participation is needed for wetland restoration and conservation work to be successful in the long term: we need to raise public awareness of the importance of these neglected ecosystems, and do so on a European-wide scale. Increased communication between scientists, decision-makers and citizens is critical.

Wetlands are key ecosystems which are rich in biodiversity and important carbon sinks. They protect us from extreme weather and natural disasters, and provide us with a wide range of other ecosystem services including food provision, water regulation, purification, recreation and tourism. 

But the latest IPBES report, published in 2018, reflects grave concerns over their current condition globally. The EC Science to policy report, just published (JRC, 2020), concludes that of all terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems in Europe, wetlands are in the worst condition of all. Put simply, wetlands are the most degraded of all existing semi-natural habitats in Europe.

The status of wetlands in the Mediterranean region is no exception: the 2018 Mediterranean Wetlands Outlook report clearly highlights the negative long-term trends worsening the condition of wetlands and threatening their future. 

The Director of ETC-UMA (MBPC lead partner), Dania Abdul Malak, co-author in the EC Science to policy report just published (JRC, 2020) highlighted during the event that, “following 8 years of research and data analysis in collaboration with the EU Joint Research Centre, European Environment Agency, DG Environment, and others, the chapter on wetland ecosystems provides scientific proof that wetlands are the most degraded ecosystem in Europe”, in addition to the 2018 Mediterranean Wetlands Outlook report which clearly highlights the negative long-term trends worsening the condition of wetlands and threatening their future.

Anne Teller from EU DG Environment and Florian Claeys from EU DG Clima, acknowledged the importance of wetlands in multiple initiatives related to the EU Green Deal, and their central role to achieve EU objectives regarding climate neutrality, biodiversity protection, zero-pollution, flood protection, circular economy, research funding and international influence.

The webinar highlighted the need to adapt the EU definition of wetlands, as explained by Tobías Salathé, senior advisor to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and highlighted by ETC-UMA Director, to foster a comprehensive policy approach in line with the EU Green Deal to achieve operational and win-win measures at EU and local levels.

We thank all speakers and participants for their enrichment to the discussion and debate, and also for their support and help to make our Biodiversity Protection Declaration well known, as more than 30 people endorsed it during the webinar! 

MBPC projects are:

The 15 modular projects which make up the Community are: Phase one (PANACeA): ACT4LITTER, AMARE, CONFISH, ECOSUSTAIN, FISHMPABLUE2, MEDSEALITTER, MPA-ADAPT, PHAROS4MPAs, PLASTICBUSTERSMPAs, WETNET, POSBEMED

Phase two (MBPC): POSBEMED 2, TUNE-UP (previous WETNET modular project), MPA ENGAGE, MPA NETWORKS