The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from the world’s scientific community leaves no doubt that we must take urgent action on climate change while we still have a chance to prevent the most destructive impacts to the globe’s communities and ecosystems. This report must spur every one of us to look at actions we can take in our region to rapidly reduce emissions and prepare our communities to adapt.
More than issuing a wake-up call, this report offers concrete actions that we can take, and emphasizes the valuable role of nature-based solutions that reduce climate change risks, while providing numerous benefits to both our communities and the planet. One of the most effective nature-based solutions is the expansion and restoration of coastal wetlands. Wetlands not only provide valuable habitat for fish and birds, acting as the base of the marine ecosystem, but wetlands have also been shown to be one of nature’s most efficient plant communities for capturing carbon from the atmosphere, trapping organic carbon quicker and better than forests, thus reducing carbon in the atmosphere. Coastal wetlands also help to buffer our communities from sea level rise, acting as a sponge to capture flood waters before they reach our homes and businesses. In short, wetlands, if protected, expanded and restored, are one of the most valuable ecosystem tools for reducing the impact of climate change.
San Francisco Bay is home to some of the most important coastal wetlands in the Western Hemisphere. However, we have lost up to 90% of our historic wetlands and those that remain are at risk of drowning as sea levels continue to rise. Significant work protecting and restoring the Bay’s wetlands is underway, but the IPCC report should urge us to rapidly increase the pace and scale of this work. We must protect every acre of wetland habitat from potential development, and advance restoration opportunities that allow our wetlands to keep pace with sea level rise. Further, as the IPCC report highlights, we must work urgently to preserve ‘wetland migration’ locations. These are undeveloped areas that will allow wetlands, and all of the species that depend on them, to move inland as sea levels rise. As we speak, hundreds of acres of potential Bay wetland migration sites are proposed for development – most notably the 500-acres of baylands in Newark referred to as “Area 4” is at imminent risk of development.
Bay Area residents have worked diligently for decades to protect San Francisco Bay, and have demonstrated an awareness of the critical role coastal wetlands play in maintaining the health of our Bay with the overwhelming passage of Measure AA, creating the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority. Now we must all work to ensure that our state and federal governments commit significantly more funding to continue the work of protecting, expanding and restoring San Francisco Bay’s wetlands.
With strong political support throughout our region we can protect existing and future wetland sites and increase funding commitments at the local, state and federal levels. Our Bay’s wetlands can become a key resource in fighting global climate change and ensuring the continued health of the Bay. Working together we can secure the future of our Bay and our communities. But we must take action now!
(View original opinion piece, published in the San Jose Mercury News on April 30, 2022)
Carin High is Co-Chair of the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, an all-volunteer organization that for over 50 years has championed the creation, expansion and protection of San Francisco Bay’s National Wildlife Refuge. Arthur Feinstein is Vice-Chair of the Sierra Club California Conservation Committee and Chair of the Sierra Club’s Bay ALIVE! Campaign, which seeks to advance a resilient Bay in the face of climate change.