Blog / 2 February 2021

Wetlands’ inhabitants fight back against environmental degradation and climate change

Last week the Netherlands hosted the Climate Adaptation Summit in which world leaders discussed the need to adapt to the rapidly changing climate. While this is without doubt an incredibly urgent matter, I think it is of equal importance that the world's leaders also keep their promises on climate change mitigation measures and the protection of the remaining intact ecosystems. The Covid-19 pandemic has once again showed us that healthy and intact wildlife habitats and ecosystems are vital to the survival of our societies.

Today, on World Wetlands Day, I would like to take the opportunity to highlight the specific importance of wetlands areas for climate change mitigation and also shine a light on the efforts by the organisations Both ENDS works with in South America to protect the La Plata Basin.

Importance of wetlands

Wetlands are one of the most unique and biodiverse ecosystems of the world. They perform two important functions in relation to climate change, as they store carbon and therefore help mitigate climate change. Wetlands also absorb abundant water and this way play a role in adapting to changing rainfall patterns. Despite this vital role in keeping the world's climate and the region's water levels in balance, wetlands are being gravely threatened by environmental degradation through human activity. And it is important to note that in the La Plata Basin, many of these threats can be directly linked to impacts caused by Dutch government policies, Dutch companies and Dutch consumers.

Dutch policy threatens the Pantanal

The Netherlands, being Europe's top importer of soy beans from South America, contributes to the ever-expanding agricultural frontier into the fragile and unique ecosystems of wetlands of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. This frontier does not only expand through slash and burn tactics of expanding fields, but also through a growing network of infrastructure projects - countless ports, roads, small and large dams - needed to transport the soy beans to the import markets. This infrastructure further exacerbates the already rampant destruction of precious river systems and natural wonders such as the Pantanal wetlands.

Additionally, climate change is already increasingly manifesting itself in the La Plata Basin. In 2020 the region was so affected by drought and human activity that nearly 30% of the unique Pantanal wetland area was destroyed in completely unprecedented series of wild fires.

Local communities protect the wetlands

However, many of the regions populations are fighting back. Not only against the loss of important ecosystems and unique biodiversity, but also against the ensuing loss of local communities' livelihoods through the destruction of valuable fishing areas or tourists spots, as well as the loss of their cultural heritage which is entwined in the health of the rivers and wetlands.

Both ENDS has since 1995 been working together with a coalition of partners towards the goal of protecting the La Plata Basin. Over the past years, in our programme 'Wetlands without Borders' local organisations have mounted political actions for the protection of the ecosystems. But they have also been busy designing methods and practices of livelihood which are in harmony with their natural surrounding. Through embracing new practices specifically adapted to wetlands areas local people are for example supported in building new agro-ecological farms in Bolivia and Brazil, or trained to develop unique 'Wetland honey' in Paraguay. This experience shows that there are plenty of opportunities to mitigate climate change through protection of wetlands without giving up economical or social development.

However, their battle against climate change and environmental degradation can not be won in one country alone. The Dutch government has been doing great strides towards climate adaptation in their own country. So while our local partners are doing whatever they can to protect and restore their own environment, I hope that the Dutch government will do it's part and take responsibility for the impact its trade and import policies and actions cause elsewhere.

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