Authors: Wetlands Section, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy
The Australian Government, scientists and wetland managers are working together to address climate change threats to internationally important Ramsar wetlands.
Wetlands are valuable ecosystems that have declined rapidly during the last hundred years in response to human activities. Climate change, already a threat, will continue to put inland and coastal freshwater and saltwater wetlands under increasing pressure into the foreseeable future. The 2018 IPCC Special Report notes that ongoing loss of wetlands was recently estimated at approximately one per cent per annum across a large number of countries.
The risks to wetlands from climate change, including higher temperatures and increased evaporation, reduced rainfall and sea level rise can be reduced by mitigation actions such as lowering greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration, and through adaption actions. In particular, adaptation (such as building ecosystem resilience) is needed because, despite mitigation actions taken now, some climate change impacts are already locked in due to past emissions.
Australia is a party to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and is committed to maintaining the ecological character of sites that it lists as internationally important under the Convention. Australia has designated sixty-six wetlands as Ramsar sites and many of them may be at risk of change to their ecological character associated with climate change and other stressors.
Climate change impacts are likely to interact with existing land use impacts so that wetlands already subject to human induced impacts such as those resulting from water extraction, agricultural land clearing and urban development are more likely to be significantly affected.
Conservation frameworks for managing wetlands with high ecological values (including Ramsar sites) may become less effective as landscapes are increasingly affected by climate change.
Currently there is no specific national (or international) guidance to support Ramsar wetland managers to undertake climate change adaptation planning.
An understanding of climate change risk across the Ramsar estate is needed to improve the capacity for site managers to prioritise and plan appropriate adaptation actions.
As a starting point the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy commissioned CSIRO to undertake a project to help wetland managers identify and characterise risks to Australia’s Ramsar wetlands from climate change. Members of the Wetlands and Aquatic Ecosystems Subcommittee, a national body comprising State and Territory government wetland agency representatives, are involved in the project which includes development of:
- Guidance for wetland managers to undertake detailed site climate change risk analyses for their Ramsar sites
- Case studies, covering a range of wetland types, to illustrate application of the guidance material
- An overarching methodology to assess the vulnerability of Australia’s Ramsar wetlands.
In December 2018, a workshop was held to road test the draft guidance using case studies from two Ramsar wetlands, the Muir Byenup Wetland System (Western Australia) and Bool and Hacks Lagoon (South Australia). The project is due for completion by mid-2019.
Hacks Lagoon. Photo: Ryan Breen