The government has been urged to consider a national action plan to protect Ghana’s peatlands and mangrove ecosystems as a nature-based solution to climate change.
Mr Muntaka Chasant, a researcher and climate change activist, said such a national action plan should address sustainable use and protection of peatlands and mangrove habitats for the longer term.
A peatland is an area of land consisting mainly of waterlogged soil layer made up of dead and decaying plant material. It acts as carbon store, habitat for wildlife and helps in water management.
“With a sequestration capacity twice as much as the world’s forests, peatlands act as carbon sinks by capturing and storing atmospheric carbon for thousands of years.”
“Degrading them risks releasing hundreds of years of stored greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, worsening the climate crisis,” he said ahead of the COP 27.
COP 27, to be hosted from November 6 -18, 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, will assemble governments and civil societies to take action towards achieving the world’s collective climate goals as agreed under the Paris Agreement and the Convention.
The United Nations Environmental Programme and the International Union for Conservation of Nature say peatlands are the world’s largest terrestrial organic carbon stock.
The Ellembele and Jomoro districts are home to some of Ghana’s peat swamp forests, Mr Chasant told the Ghana News Agency in an interview on Monday, explaining that the swamps around those areas were under threat as there appeared to be lack of knowledge about their importance.
“Unprotected, the vast peat swamp forests around Nzema are under anthropogenic pressures. They are under threat from oil and gas activities and land-use change, including logging and drainage for agriculture,” he said.
Those practices shifted the carbon-rich forests from net carbon sinks to net carbon sources — meaning more carbon is leaving than being brought in.
Addressing mangrove deforestation, Mr Chasant drew the government’s attention to the degradation of mangrove habitats in the Ankobra River and Volta Delta through illegal mining (galamsey), making a case for an urgent national policy that would protect mangroves as well.
“Galamsey has not only polluted the Ankobra River, but has also deprived communities that rely on it for jobs and food of their livelihoods,” he said.
Mangroves, nicknamed ‘guardians of the coast’, are just as critical as peatlands. They are a group of trees and shrubs that thrive in salty costal waters with the ability to store vast amounts of carbon.
“Mangrove forests are key weapons in the fight against climate change but are under threat worldwide,” Mr Chasant said.
With fisheries in decline, many people had resorted to cutting down mangrove trees to sell as firewood, he said, adding:
“It’s the same scenario in the Volta Delta, where mangrove logging is a major source of livelihood”.
“Many families lay claims to coastal mangrove habitats, appropriating these landscapes as personal properties, which has encouraged coastal deforestation”.
“But they are national resources by their geography.
A national Action Plan should address ownership claims to protect these critical habitats from degradation”.
Being extremely important ecosystems, mangroves provide essential habitats for many diverse species of animals, sequester carbon, and protect the coast from storm surges, floods, and erosion.
“Degrading them accelerates the rate of biodiversity loss, and leaves coastlines vulnerable to storm attacks,” he said.
Mr Chasant called for the consideration of a wider national climate action policy by clearly identifying the role of forests in emission mitigations.
“Recent studies have identified tropical forests as net sources of carbon emissions. While climate change itself may have an impact on the carbon fluxes of both peatlands and mangrove habitats, direct human activities are seen as having a much greater role in accelerating release,” he said.
“We worsen global climate change by not protecting Ghana’s vast peatlands and mangrove habitats from direct human disturbances”.
In addition to regulating climate the government owed it to future generations to protect those carbon storage powerhouses to serve as buffer to slow global warming, he said.