Half of all the world’s wetlands were destroyed over the course of the 20th century, according to an alarming report released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).


The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Water and Wetlands (TEEB) report found that human drivers of ecosystem change, including destructive industries, unsustainable agriculture and poorly managed urban expansion, all have taken a serious toll on the world’s wetlands.


Global and local water cycles are heavily dependent on healthy and productive wetlands, which in turn provide clean drinking water, irrigation for local communities and flood regulation.


Yet despite this, the TEEB report finds, government bodies, societies and corporations paid little respect to these vital ecosystems, with intensive agricultural production, unsustainable water extraction for domestic and industrial use, urbanisation, infrastructure development and pollution all taking their toll on the health of the world’s wetlands.


“Policies and decisions often do not take into account the many services that wetlands provide - thus leading to the rapid degradation and loss of wetlands globally,” said UN Under-Secretary General and UN Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner.


“There is an urgent need to put wetlands and water-related ecosystem services at the heart of water management in order to meet the social, economic and environmental needs of a global population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050,” he added.


The report lays out a suite of key recommendations to be followed to mitigate the serious environmental degradation, including fully integrating the management of wetlands and securing their wise use in water management; and prioritising the further loss and conversion of wetlands through strategic environmental assessments are among the many steps that must be taken, according to the report.


Between 1900 and 2003, the world lost an estimated 50 per cent of its wetlands, while recent coastal wetland loss in some places, notably East Asia, has been up to 1.6 per cent a year. This has led to situations such as the 20 per cent loss of mangrove forest coverage since 1980.

The main pressures on wetlands come from:

  • Habitat loss, for example through wetland drainage for agriculture or infrastructure developments, driven by population growth and urbanization;
  • Over-exploitation, for example the unsustainable harvesting of fish;
  • Excessive water withdrawals for use in, for example, irrigated agriculture;
  • Nutrient loading from fertilizer use and urban waste water, which can lead to eutrophication - the excessive growth of algae that deprives other species of enough oxygen and can create dead zones;
  • Climate change, which can change ecosystem conditions through rising temperatures;
  • Pollution, remarkably through extractive industries, invasive species and siltation.


The executive summary of the report can be downloaded at: www.teebweb.org


The full report is available at: http://www.cbd.int/doc/meetings/cop/cop-11/information/cop-11-inf-22-en.pdf