Geology for Global Development

Geology for Global Development

The importance of wetlands

The importance of wetlands

World Wetlands day is celebrated on 2nd February, marking the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands, also known as Ramsar Convention, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on 2nd February 1971. It “provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Today 170 countries have adopted it and 2,341 Ramsar sites covering over 2,5 million km² are designated as Wetlands of International Importance. But what are wetlands and why should we care about them? I’ll address these questions and other important points in this article.

First, what are wetlands?

Basically, a wetland is an area of land that is covered with water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary. This water can be salt, fresh or somewhere in between, and have a maximum depth of six metres. Mangroves, marshes, ponds, peatlands, swamps, deltas, estuaries, low-lying areas that frequently flood are all wetlands and they can be found on every continent. Some of the largest ones are the Sundarbans mangrove forest in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta in Bangladesh, the Amazon River basin (figure below), and the Pantanal, both in Brazil.

Wetlands cover about 3% of world’s surface. A web-based map shows the global distribution of wetlands and peat areas. It was launched in 2016 by researchers from Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program – SWAMP and is based on satellite images acquired by the  Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument.

Why should we care about wetlands?

Wetlands are rich but also fragile environments. They can provide water, fish/biodiveristy, recreational areas and help to regulate the climate.

  • Biodiversity: Wetlands function as wildlife refuge, supporting high concentration of mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates, being nurseries for many of these species.
  • Resources: Further, they can be a huge resource for humans, supporting rice paddies (Figure 2), a staple food. They also help purify water by trapping pollutants and heavy metals in the soil and neutralizing harmful bacteria by breaking down suspend solids in the water.
  • Geohazards: Wetlands provide flood control and storm protection in coastal areas acting like a sponge during storm events such as hurricanes, reducing their power of destruction.
  • Climate change: Here is another important point that I would like to highlight about wetlands. They play an important role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, since they store huge amounts of carbon. If you are curious about this topic, see this post where Heather [a regular contributor to the GfGD Blog] discusses how carbon is stored in peat soils in the tropics and the main threats to these areas.

Wetlands in Amazon river basin during the dry season (Oct 2017), close to Santarém, Brazil – Photo: Bárbara Zambelli

Threatened environment

Despite their social and ecological importance, wetlands are continuously being degraded and even destroyed worldwide. According to this research the world has lost 64-71% of their wetlands since 1900 AD. Here is a list of the main threats towards wetlands:

  • Pollution: Generally located in low-lying areas, they receive fertilizers and pesticides from agricultural runoff, industrial effluents and households waste or sewage. These pollutants have detrimental effects on water quality and threaten the fauna and flora of wetlands. As I mentioned before, wetlands work as water filters, therefore there is a growing concern about how pollution will impact drinking water supplies and wetland biological diversity.
  • Agriculture and urbanization: One of the biggest threats to this environment is its drainage to make room for agriculture and human settlements. Such activities are an increasing threat and they destroy the ecosystem and all the benefits wetlands can provide.
  • Dams: The construction of a dam alters the natural flow of water through a landscape. This alteration may lead to an increase or decrease of water flow through a wetland, being potentially harmful for wetland ecosystems. Thus, it is essential to choose the location of a dam wisely, to reduce the impact on existing ecosystems.
  • Climate change: Climate change is shifting the world’s temperature and precipitation patterns. Wetlands are getting lost due both too much and too little water. Shallow coastal wetlands such as mangroves are being swamped because of sea level rise. In areas affected by droughts, estuaries, floodplains and marshes are drying up. Wetlands and climate change are the theme of World Wetlands Day in 2019.

Opportunities – taking action

Wetlands are a critical environment and their effective management can give a substantial contribution to biodiversity conservation and restoration, maintaining its bioecological characteristics and allowing the using of resources economically.

According to SWAMP, “carbon-rich mangroves and peatlands are high priorities in climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies throughout the world.”

With their partners, SWAMP have developed a collaborative agenda expected to raise the awareness about sustainable management of wetlands in changing world and livelihoods of local communities. The Ramsar Convention, an international agreement, is still important today because it supports environmental policy development and it encourages countries to commit to it. It is also valuable as an international forum for gathering and sharing knowledge about sustainable wetlands management. Also international NGOs such as Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Wetlands International play an important role.

Finally, regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), recently Ramsar published a briefing note of how wetlands can contribute to their achievement. Access it hereto find out more details.

Jesse Zondervan’s January 2019 #GfGDpicks: which climate adaptation methods are on the rise in 2019?

Jesse Zondervan’s January 2019 #GfGDpicks: which climate adaptation methods are on the rise in 2019?

Each month, Jesse Zondervan picks his favourite posts from geoscience and development blogs/news which cover the geology for global development interest. This past month’s picks include:  Why it’s so hard to predict tsunamis, which climate adaptation methods are on the rise in 2019 & opportunities for scientists to solve local challenges with Thriving Earth Exchange.  

Plastic waste in the oceans and on beaches visibly smashes itself back in our faces to trouble our consciences after attempts to dump and hide the consequences of human waste-production. The size of our triggered guilt aside, how does our plastic problem quantitively compare in scale to the problem of carbon dioxide emission? You may be surprised, or not.

More significantly, climate adaptation, rather than prediction or prevention, takes the foreground at the start of 2019. In a long-read worth having a cup of tea over, National Geographic reports ways of adaptation gaining steam, such as the American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange, a sort of tinder for scientists and communities facing challenges related to natural resources, climate change and natural hazards issue (see whether you can help!).

“The American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange, a sort of tinder for scientists and communities facing challenges related to natural resources, climate change and natural hazards issues”

In addition, consider the following about adaptation: if you want to built a sustainable water-energy-food nexus, how do you manage or cope with migration? After all, even though development efforts might be thwarted, migration is a very efficient coping mechanism. Tellingly, both America and Bangladesh have started relocating flooded communities.

In disaster risk, we are looking back at 2018:

When a tsunami triggered by a landslide caused by the Anak Krakatau eruption in Indonesia bypassed the tsunami-warning system put in place to warn for earthquake-induced tsunamis, the world was once more reminded of our inability to predict all hazards, and its consequences.

However, studies like the one which uncovered a historic South China Sea tsunami from the geological record help to dust off our hazy memories of such events. Timely, since large infrastructural projects like the Belt and Road initiative are in full swing planning harbours and nuclear plant locations.

While insurance company Munich Re captured the world’s natural disasters of 2018, the fourth-costliest year since 1980, in numbers, the Bank of England plans to test climate resilience of UK banks.

As usual, there is a lot to check out, so go ahead!

Climate Adaptation

Once derided, ways of adapting to climate change are gaining steam by Andrew Revkin at National Geographic

Water – Energy – Food – Migration Nexus

Water-Migration nexus and the human displacement discourse by Nidhi Nagabhatla at Future Earth blog

Hike in record-dry months for Africa’s Sahel worries scientists by Laurie Goering at BRACED

How technology is helping farmers predict and prepare for El Niño by Michael Hailu at Thomson Reuters Foundation

Sea-level migration

In first, Native American tribe displaced by sea gets land to relocate by Sebastien Malo at Thomson Reuters Foundation

Bangladesh lends land to islanders as water devours homes by Rafiqul Islam at Thomson Reuters Foundation

Bracing for climate change – a matter of survival for the Maldives by Hartwig Schafer at End Poverty in South Asia

Climate Change

The Ocean Garbage Patch Is Tiny Compared to Our Carbon Footprint by Sarah Burns at State of the Planet

Disaster Risk

Why the ‘Child of Krakatau’ volcano is still dangerous – a volcanologist explains by Thomas Giachetti at The Conversation

The Anak Krakatau Tsunami, from the Beginning until Now by Dana Hunter at Scientific American

Scientists say a tsunami hit China 1,000 years ago – and there’s still a risk of a giant wave hitting today by Martin Choi at the South China Morning Post

The natural disasters of 2018 in figures by Petra low at Munich Re

Bank of England plants to test climate resilience of UK banks at Acclimatise

External Opportunities

CfP – 2019 Mexico Conference on Earth System Governance

Multiple positions in the field of climate adaptation governance (post-doc and doctoral researchers)

Seeking Book Proposals on Water, Green Infrastructure, Climate Change Adaptation, and Public Health

 

Check back next month for more picks!

Follow Jesse Zondervan @JesseZondervan. Follow us @Geo_Dev & Facebook.

Geology for Global Development – Our Highlights from 2018 and Plans for 2019

We have a busy year ahead of us, helping to put sustainable development at the heart of geoscience events, training and practice, and advocating for the importance of geoscience in tackling global challenges. Here’s an overview of our plans, and some highlights from 2018.

Geology for Global Development (GfGD) is a registered charity in England and Wales (Charity Number 1165663), working internationally to champion the role of geology in sustainable development. Working in partnership with many other organisations, we are mobilising and reshaping the geology community to help deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We have four key priorities:

  • INSPIRATION. Promote the value of geology in supporting sustainable development.
  • EDUCATION. Equip geologists to engage positively in sustainable development.
  • ACTION. Enhance the application of geology to international development.
  • LEADERSHIP. Exercise international leadership on matters relating to geology and sustainable development.

Key Achievements in 2018

Through 2018, we delivered many activities aligned with the strategic priorities above. Later this year we’ll publish our Annual Report describing our work in 2018 in detail, but here are some of our highlights…

  • Geology and the SDGs Briefing Note. Co-published with the Geological Society of London and British Geological Survey, this note aims to raise awareness in and outside of the geoscience community of how geoscientists can help deliver the SDGs.
  • Enhancing Earth Science Education to Support Sustainable Development Paper. This article was commissioned to inform an international report on Education for Sustainable Development Practice, setting out key priorities for the next decade. The report will be published in early 2019.
  • University Groups. We continued to give support to our network of ~12 University Groups in England and Scotland, including preparing a resource book to help guide their work and those planning to establish new groups. Our groups had a fantastic year, organising over 30 events through 2018.
  • Presentations on Geoscience for Sustainable Development. We attended key events in Ireland (Irish Early Career Geoscientists Symposium, Galway, January 2018) and the United Kingdom (Herdman Symposium, University of Liverpool, February 2018), and discussed the future of geoscience in the context of delivering the SDGs. We also outlined our work at the international Resources for Future Generations conference.
  • 6th Annual Conference (Water and Sustainable Development). Hosted and supported by the Geological Society of London, this event gathered 120+ people, with approximately 80% of these being early-career geoscientists. The event was opened by a UK Government Minister (Lord Duncan of Springbank), and included speakers from industry, civil society and academia. Diverse case studies from around the world were presented, with a particular emphasis on Tanzania. We welcomed Benedicto Hosea, from Tanzania, and The Eleanor Foundation team to talk about their work towards Sustainable Development Goal 6 (water and sanitation) in Tanzania.
  • UN MGCY at the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, UN HQ (2018)

    UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum on the SDGs (UN HQ, June 2018). This forum discussed the science required for “transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”, including SDGs 6 (water and sanitation), 7 (energy), 11 (sustainable cities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 15 (life on land). Given our leadership on geoscience and the SDGs, we made it a priority to attend and ensure a clear voice for geoscience at the heart of global development decision-making. Read more.

  • New Partnerships. We became an affiliated organisation of the International Union of Geological Sciences, and signed a partnership agreement with the Liverpool Geological Society.

What’s coming up in 2019? 

We have some exciting plans for the next 12 months, with many opportunities for you to get involved in our work. Some highlights include:

  • Geoscience and Society Summit (Stockholm, Sweden). We are a partner organisation at this innovative summit, with dialogue focused on effective cooperation between scientists and users of scientific information to tackle global and local challenges around sustainability of natural resources and systems, global health, and resilience. Find our more and register here.
  • 3rd International Critical Metals Conference (Edinburgh, UK). We are supporting this conference, organized by the Mineralogical Society’s Applied Mineralogy Group, bringing together researchers working at different stages along the life cycle of critical metals. Session themes will include the geology and resources of critical metals, raw materials for the decarbonisation of energy and transport, and life cycle analysis and ethical sourcing of critical metals. Read more and submit your abstracts!
  • Improved Water Source in Tanzania (Credit: The Eleanor Foundation)

    Water Resources in Tanzania. We will be funding an MSc research project at Cranfield University to be conducted in Tanzania with The Eleanor Foundation. This work will evaluate the sustainability of an established water programme, and provide recommendations for future work. We will also facilitate a round table meeting in the UK focused on delivering SDG 6 (water and sanitation) in Tanzania.

  • 7th GfGD Annual Conference. Our next annual conference is scheduled for Friday 15th November (save the date!). We’ll be announcing more details early in 2019.
  • Guatemala. We’re currently working with partners in Guatemala to design a programme that helps strengthen resilience to volcanic hazards. In 2018, we conducted interviews with key participants in Guatemala. Further progress will be made on this project in 2019.
  • UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum on the SDGs. We hope to secure funding to lead a delegation of geoscientists to the 4th UN Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs, championing the role of geoscience in SDGs 4 (education), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 10 (inequality), 13 (climate), 16 (strong institutions), 17 (partnerships).
  • Conference Bursaries. We will support student attendance at key geoscience or development meetings, particularly looking for opportunities to facilitate engagement by students in low-income countries.
  • Engaging with Industry. We’re eager to work with the whole geoscience community, mobilising their expertise to help deliver the SDGs. In 2019 we will set up a working group to explore how to work more with geoscience professionals in the private sector.

Follow our social media (Facebook and Twitter) to hear about ways to get involved in our work, and volunteer your time and expertise. We believe that our work can help to reshape the geology community, building a sector equipped to serve communities around the world. We’d love your support – read more about the ways you can help us on our ‘donate’ webpage.

Event Report: UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum 2018

Last month GfGD Director, Dr Joel Gill, attended the UN Annual Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With few other, if any, geoscience organisations in attendance we believed it to be important for Geology for Global Development to engage and ensure a voice for geoscience at this significant event. 

**Event Overview**

UN General Assembly resolution 70/1 on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for an annual science, technology and innovation (STI) Forum to discuss cooperation around thematic areas for the implementation of the SDGs. This is expressed in an annual gathering at the UN headquarters in New York, with focused discussion around a subset of the SDGs.

The event this year discussed the science required for “transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”, including SDGs 6 (water and sanitation), 7 (energy), 11 (sustainable cities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 15 (life on land).

The STI Forum aimed to facilitate interactions, networks and partnerships to identify and examine needs and gaps in technologies, scientific cooperation, innovation and capacity-building to support the SDGs. The forum is attended by member states (official national representatives, civil society, the private sector, the scientific community, and United Nations entities (e.g., UNESCO, UN Water).

This was the first time Geology for Global Development has attended this meeting, having previously engaged in a UN scientific meeting around the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva in 2016. Given the topics being discussed, and our commitment to ensuring the geoscience community is engaged and actively contributing to the SDGs (and processes around them), we believed it to be of paramount importance that the geoscience community attended and contributed. Given our leadership on geoscience and the SDGs, we made it a priority to attend and ensure a clear voice for geoscience at the heart of global development decision-making.

**How and what did we contribute to this meeting?**

The first thing we had to get to grips with, is understanding HOW to contribute to a meeting like this, different from the typical science conference. The forum included (i) formal panel discussions, followed by interventions from the floor, and (ii) side events. The latter generally allowed for more free-flowing dialogue and unscripted questions from the floor after a panel discussion. The former were a complex mix of science and diplomacy. Each SDG being discussed had a formal panel discussion, with interventions (largely scripted) afterwards to represent the perspectives of a stakeholder group. These interventions were generally made by member states (national representatives), with only a handful throughout the forum from non-member state groups.

Through collaborating with the UN Major Group on Children and Youth (UN MGCY), I was able to shape some intervention statements, and communicate geoscience messages at the meeting. UN MGCY are the UN General Assembly-mandated, official, formal and self-organised space for children and youth (under 30 [Editor: -ish!]), supporting their contribution to and engagement in certain intergovernmental and allied policy processes at the UN (such as this STI Forum). They act as a bridge between young people and the UN system in order to ensure their right to meaningful participation is realised.

By working in coalition with such stakeholder groups it is possible to construct strong, interdisciplinary interventions, that have greater resonance (and chance of being heard) than the voice of an individual or single-interest community. These interventions are captured in the meeting record and can eventually inform other gatherings, such as this week’s High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, attended by ministers from around the world.

UN MGCY at the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, UN HQ (2018), with GfGD Director at the back (left).

So while the interventions made by UN MGCY were not wholly focused on the geoscience (not a bad thing, interdisciplinarity is essential) – this mechanism ensures perspectives from geoscientists, engineers, economists etc are integrated and heard. Here are some of our contributions to the official interventions:

SDG 7 – Energy. Editing was made to ensure clarity around the provision of energy to the poorest and most vulnerable.

SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities. Text was added which emphasised the role of (i) improved collection, management and integration of environmental, build environment and societal data, and (ii) that the spatial extent of cities does not cease at the surface, and that we encourage cities to develop underground master-plans, based on 3D subsurface models, to strengthen urban resilience as outlined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

SDG 12 – Sustainable Consumption and Production. Text was added which brought attention to the
expected increase in demand for mineral resources as green technologies are more widely deployed.

In addition we made the following contributions to the less formal side events:

  • Smart Cities. In the context of a session primarily focused on the surface of cities, I emphasised the importance of the sub-surface to urban development was raised, highlighting its relevance to resource management, integrated spatial planning, and disaster risk reduction.
  • Capacity Building. In the context of a discussion about how to build science capacity in policy makers, I noted the importance of training and engaging with scientists to improve the communication flow between these two stakeholder groups. I emphasised the need to build the capacity of the scientific community through UN institutions, and to strengthen understanding of science for policy.
  • Disaster Risk Reduction. In the context of a session which primarily addressed DRR and
    hydrometeorological hazards, I noted the importance of geological hazards, holistic (or ‘multi-hazard’)
    disaster risk reduction that considers all relevant hazards, and dialogue between geologists,
    hydrologists, meteorologists and others.
  • Planetary Boundaries. In the context of a session emphasising green energy and transport technologies, smart technology, and ICT for development, I emphasised the need to consider current and future natural resource requirements. While others noted the need to protect water and air, the need for mineral resources was largely missing from all discussions at the meeting. I gave the example of coltan and batteries for car electrification, referencing this report by the BGS.

Alongside these interventions, the event also provided important opportunities for networking and sharing information about Geology for Global Development, and learning about the United Nations and how to engage effectively.

**What’s Next**

Given the topics being discussed (water, energy, cities, disaster risk reduction, planetary boundaries), the lack of geoscience engagement and attendance was notable, and disappointing. I have sympathy for those expressing frustration that general discussions on expanding green technologies ignore the question of accessing natural resources, or discussions on cities ignore the subsurface. It is not possible to have resilient and sustainable urban environments without comprehensively understanding the subsurface, given (for example) it’s interaction with surface infrastructure or the movement of water and contaminants between the surface and subsurface.

Cities: Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Development (GfGD Annual Conference, 2017)

However, if as disciplinary specialists in these aspects of global challenges we don’t prioritise attendance and engagement as part of our knowledge exchange and policy support responsibilities it is understandable to some extent that these factors are ignored. We need policy makers who understand (geo)science, but we also need scientists and scientific organisations passionate about policy.

Greater geoscience leadership on this theme is needed, with international geoscience organisations recognising their social and professional responsibility to give a voice to geoscience at these meetings. Geology for Global Development will be working to facilitate this over the coming months, building relationships with other national and international organisations to provide a stronger and clearer voice to the international geoscience community on sustainable development. We’ll be sharing more at our next annual conference (details coming soon). We’ll also be exploring how we can encourage greater engagement of our network with the United Nations, including through the UN Major Group on Children and Youth (for those in that category).

Discussion at this forum is now feeding into the annual High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which started earlier this week. Ministers from around the world are gathering to examine progress towards the SDGs.