Earth Day 2022 theme ‘invest in our planet’ highlights need for immediate action

ABC News: Alice Pavlovic.

Earth Day, now in its 52nd year, is recognised as the largest secular observance in the world, mobilising a billion people each year in events and activities across the globe.

Earth Day 2022 falls on April 22 and is emphasising the need for action at all levels, calling for businesses, governments, and individuals to be ‘all in’ to tackle the challenge of a changing climate.

This year’s Earth Day’s theme ‘invest in our planet’ is particularly timely for us in South East Queensland, with calls for proactive climate mitigation and adaptation measures to be put in place in the wake of the recent devastating flood events.

Photo from our T.S. Onslow Shoreline Management project in Moreton Bay.

Vulnerable wetlands can provide a climate change ‘safety net’

Wetlands are among our ecosystems most vulnerable to climate change – but they could also be one of our greatest allies in mitigating and adapting to its impacts.

Changes in temperature, altered rainfall patterns, sea level rise and extreme weather are affecting rivers, wetlands and other water-dependent ecosystems globally.

Healthy Land & Water and its partners are delivering a suite of projects to reduce threats and restore habitat throughout the internationally significant Moreton Bay Ramsar wetland.
Explore our projects here.

Increased evaporation and transpiration – the processes by which water moves from the earth’s surface into the atmosphere – and changes to inflow (e.g. precipitation, surface and groundwater flow, tides) means that many permanently inundated wetlands are becoming seasonal or ephemeral (i.e. temporarily dry). As sea levels rise, intertidal wetlands are predicted to gradually shift inland, but in highly developed coastal areas there is often nowhere for them to go.

Protecting these vital ecosystems not only provides benefits to biodiversity – wetlands also have an important role to play in the fight against climate change.

Firstly, they are carbon ‘sinks’, meaning they absorb more carbon than they release. Due to their high productivity, wetland vegetation captures large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, and the anaerobic (oxygen-free) soil conditions slow the decomposition of organic matter, allowing them to store carbon for hundreds or thousands of years.

Wetlands can also help us adapt to climate change by buffering the impacts of extreme weather events. Wetlands protect our coastal areas by absorbing the energy from storm and tidal surges and stabilising the shoreline to minimise erosion. They can also contribute to flood mitigation by taking up and storing excess water which is then slowly released over time.

Bleached and dying coral on the Great Barrier Reef.

Climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’

The increasingly observable impacts of climate change are set to intensify over the coming decades with widespread implications for humanity and biodiversity.

We are already feeling the effects in South East Queensland, with increased rainfall variability and more frequent and extreme droughts and floods occurring across the region. Warming temperatures are causing increased physiological stress for people and wildlife and heightening the risk and severity of bushfires which threaten life and livelihoods.

Over the last eight years, Australia’s world heritage listed Great Barrier Reef has experienced a series of mass bleaching events, with the most recent occurring in February of this year.

Climate change has ‘cascading and compounding’ impacts, amplifying other stressors (such as habitat degradation and fragmentation, invasive species, and defaunation) and triggering feedback effects which put increasing pressure on our capacity to respond.

Coral reefs are one of the ecosystems currently most affected by climate change. In Australia, we are already observing significant changes in these environments, and there are fears that where climate effects outpace an ecosystem’s ability to naturally regenerate, these changes could reach tipping points and become irreversible.

ABC News.

Supporting resilient regions

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), released in August 2021, recognises the current state of the climate is causing rapid and widespread changes to our natural systems. As the region’s peak environmental group, Healthy Land and Water stands with both the international scientific community and our stakeholders as we work together to tackle the challenges of climate change in South East Queensland.

Healthy ecosystems can help boost the resilience of our communities and support our region’s ability to adapt to a changing climate. There is a growing body of evidence for nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The preservation, restoration and creation of blue carbon ecosystems (e.g. mangroves, tidal marshes, and seagrass) is one important action going forward, but it will only be effective as part of a wider, integrated response to climate change.

We will need a proactive and adaptive strategy to tackle the challenges ahead and the time to invest is now. The longer we wait, the more difficult – and more expensive – it will be to mitigate and adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change.

Read our recent statement calling on governments to flip the current disaster response model: https://hlw.org.au/newsroom/flood-preparedness-investment-long-overdue-time-to-switch-tracks-or-accept-consequences/

The Moreton Bay Ramsar Wetland project is supported by Healthy Land & Water, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

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