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

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.

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