Tropical wetlands and REDD+: Three unique scientific challenges for policy

Main Article Content

Daniel A Friess


The carbon sequestration and storage value of terrestrial habitats is now increasingly appreciated, and is the basis for Payment for Ecosystem Service (PES) policies such as REDD+. Tropical wetlands may be suitable for inclusion in such schemes because of the disproportionately large volume of carbon they are able to store. However, tropical wetlands offer a number of unique challenges for carbon management and policy compared to terrestrial forest systems: 1) Tropical wetlands are dynamic and subject to a wide range of physical and ecological processes that affect their long-term carbon storage potential – thus, such systems can quickly become a carbon source instead of a sink; 2) Carbon dynamics in tropical wetlands often operate over longer time-scales than are currently covered by REDD+ payments; and 3) Much of the carbon in a tropical wetland is stored in the soil, so monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) needs to adequately encapsulate the entire ecosystem and not just the vegetative component. This paper discusses these physical and biological concepts, and highlights key legal, management and policy questions that must be considered when constructing a policy framework to conserve these crucial ecosystems.

Article Details

Author Biography

Daniel A Friess, National University of Singapore

Assistant Professor


C Lacambra et al, ‘Bioshields: Using Mangroves to Reduce Disaster Vulnerability and Improve Livelihoods’ in Renaud, Sudmeier-Rieux and Estrella (eds), The Role of Ecosystems in Disaster Reduction (United Nations University Press, 2013).

D C Donato et al, ‘Mangroves Among the Most Carbon-Rich Forests in the Tropics’ (2011) 4 Nature Geoscience 293.

D A Friess et al, ‘Are All Intertidal Wetlands Naturally Created Equal? Bottlenecks, Thresholds and Knowledge Gaps to Mangrove and Saltmarsh Ecosystems’ (2012) 87 Biological Reviews 346.

D A Friess and E L Webb, ‘Bad Data Equals Bad Policy: How to Trust Rates of Ecosystem Loss When There Is So Much Uncertainty?’ (2011) 38 Environmental Conservation 1.

M R Rands et al, ‘Biodiversity Conservation: Challenge Beyond 2010’ (2010) 329 Science 1298; R T Watson, ‘Turning Science Into Policy: Challenges and Experiences from the Science-Policy Interface’ (2005) 260 Philosophical Transac-tions of the Royal Society B 471.

J H Wösten et al, ‘Interrelationships Between Hydrology and Ecology in Fire Degraded Tropical Peat Swamp Forests’ (2006) 22 International Journal of Water Resources Development, 157.

K W Krauss et al, ‘Environmental Drivers in Mangrove Establishment and Early Development: A Review’ (2008) 89 Aquatic Botany 105.

D A Friess et al, ‘Mandai Mangrove, Singapore: Lessons for the Conservation of Southeast Asia’s Mangroves’ (2012) S25 Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 55.

Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Malaysia, Danida, GEF and UNDP, Malaysia’s Peat Swamp Forests: Conservation and Sustainable use (United Nations Development Programme, Malaysia. 2006).

V C Chong, ‘Sustainable Utilization and Management of Mangrove Ecosystems of Malaysia’ (2006) 9 Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management 249.

S E Page et al, ‘The amount of carbon released from peat and forest fires in Indonesia in 1997’ (2002) 420 Nature 61.

T Neeff and F Ascui ‘Lessons From Carbon Markets for Designing an Effective REDD Architecture’ (2009) 9 Climate Policy 306.

D M Alongi, ‘Carbon Payments for Mangrove Conservation: Ecosystem Constraints and Uncertainties of Sequestration Potential (2011) 14 Environmental Science and Policy 462.

D Taylor et al, ‘Late Quaternary Peat Formation and Vegetation Dynamics in a Lowland Tropical Swamp, Nee Soon, Singapore’ (2001) 171 Paleogeography, Paleoclimatology, Paleoecology 269.

J Phelps E L Webb and L P Koh, ‘Risky Business: An Uncertain Future for Biodiversity Conservation Finance Through REDD+’ (2010) 4 Conservation Letters 88.

D J Baker et al, ‘Achieving Forest Carbon Information with Higher Certainty: A Five-part plan’ (2010) 13 Environmental Science and Policy 249.

J C Fox et al, ‘Protocols for field sampling of forest carbon pools for Monitoring, Reporting and Verification of REDD’ (2010) Geoscience and Remote Sensing IGARSS 2010 IEEE International, 1509.

A Gupta et al, In Pursuit of Carbon Accounting: The Politics of REDD+ Measuring, Reporting and Verification Systems. (2012) 4 Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 726.

S S Saatchi et al. ‘Benchmark map of forest carbon stocks in tropical regions across three continents’ (2011) 108 Pro-ceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 9899.

N L Harris et al, ‘Baseline Map of Carbon Emissions from Deforestation in Tropical Regions’ (2012) 336 Science 1573.

D M Alongi, ‘Carbon Sequestration in Mangrove Forests’ (2012) 3 Carbon Management 313.

E L Webb et al, ‘A Global Standard for Monitoring Coastal Wetland Vulnerability to Accelerated Sea Level Rise’ (2013) 3 Nature Climate Change 458.

M Jonas et al ‘Lessons to be Learned from Uncertainty Treatment: Conclusions Regarding Greenhouse Gas Inventories’ in: M Jonas et al (eds), Greenhouse Gas Inventories: Dealing with Uncertainty (Springer. 2011) 339.

G P Asner, ‘Painting the World REDD: Addressing Scientific Barriers to Monitoring Emissions from Tropical Forests’ (2011) 6 Environmental Research Letters 021002.