Guiding peatland restoration for climate and biodiversity action

Peatlands are climate super-powers. Covering only 3% of the earth’s surface, these bogs and mires store 600 GT of carbon – more than any other terrestrial ecosystem. They are also hotspots for biodiversity: home to many rare and endangered species which reside in water-logged peatlands. But today peatlands are among our most endangered ecosystems, with 50 million hectares drained for agriculture, forestry, infrastructure or peat extraction. Amid rising pressure to address the linked climate and biodiversity crises together, restoring peatlands is essential for a healthy and sustainable future.

The Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty dedicated to wetland conservation and sustainable use. With 172 Contracting Parties, it provides countries with technical and policy guidance to scale up conservation of peatlands and other types of wetlands. Its new guidance and policy resources aim to support countries to develop and implement peatland restoration and wise-use policies, and outline the major opportunities for scaling peatland restoration.

Peatlands are a stark reminder of our biodiversity crisis’ toll on climate.

As natural carbon stockpiles, when peatlands are drained, degraded or burned they emit huge amounts of carbon: accounting for 4-5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. As shown in the Convention on Wetlands’ new policy brief, this also results in massive environmental degradation – damage we cannot afford.

When we lose peatlands, we lose their climate services, their services for fresh water provision, irrigation, food security and protection from water-related disasters such as floods and droughts, which – as outlined in the most recent IPPC climate science report – are essential to our adaptation and survival in a rapidly warming climate.

Restoring peatlands is critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, Paris Agreement and emerging Global Biodiversity Framework.

The Convention on Wetlands’ new technical report and briefing on restoring peatlands shows that achieving the scale of emissions reductions we need to limit average global temperature rise to the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement means protecting all remaining peatlands from drainage and restoring at least 50% of all lost peatlands – 25 million hectares – by 2030.

The report shows that preventing further peatland drainage will protect biodiversity while enabling continued carbon sequestration. Restoring lost peatlands by rewetting and reintroducing peat-forming plants will restore carbon stocks, reduce ongoing emissions and initiate long-term biodiversity restoration.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is an opportunity to scale up peatland restoration but we still lack commitment, action and finance.

Despite growing awareness of the importance of peatlands for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Agreement, the peatland problem has received relatively little attention and action in comparison to other ecosystems. To restore 50% of drained peatlands before 2030 – more than 2 million hectares per year – will require enormous upscaling of restoration practice, supportive government policies and finance.

The Convention’s new Global Guidance for Peatland Rewetting and Restoration provides practical guidance to support countries to rewet drained peatlands and re-establish vegetation for restoring peat, local biodiversity and hydrological conditions for sustainable development. The report and briefing note provide multiple options and considerations for restoring degraded peatlands and opportunities for supportive national and international policy, including incorporation of peatland protection and restoration actions within Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Given their high mitigation impact, more and more countries are including peatland protection and restoration in their NDCs, including Canada, Germany, Malaysia and the UK. While this is critical progress, to achieve the scale of peatland action needed, countries must also transform land use, energy, road construction and other policy areas to ensure no further drainage of peatland areas. With half of all peatlands that must be rewetted currently in use for agriculture or forestry, this will be a huge challenge requiring unprecedented cooperation and political will.

The sooner the better for people and nature.

With a few short years left to radically cut carbon emissions, reverse biodiversity loss and deliver the SDGs, ecosystem approaches that cut across these goals should and will gain increasing attention in the months ahead. With countries finalizing a new global biodiversity framework and doubling investments and targets for biodiversity conservation towards COP27, we have already seen major global pacts raising billions for nature restoration. It is essential that peatlands – our most effective carbon store and a biodiversity hotspot – attract the same momentum, financing and political will.

Dianna Kopansky, coordinator of the Global Peatlands Initiative at UNEP, commented: “As is increasingly recognised, peatlands are one of the most powerful nature-based solutions on the planet, contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation, crucial biodiversity survival, resilience and human health and well-being. The Convention on Wetlands provides a strong framework for their protection and sustainable management, while the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is a powerful driver for peatland conservation and restoration at scale and across the world. Concrete commitments and adequate finance are still lacking. The research, technical reports, best-practice manuals and policy guidance that the Convention on Wetlands produces are indispensable tools to enable action to protect, restore and sustainably manage peatlands worldwide for our climate, nature, and a healthy future for all.

Tobias Salathé, Senior Advisor at the Convention on Wetlands said, “Peatlands must occupy a much more prominent part of the global climate, biodiversity and sustainable development agenda. With less than a decade left to halve global emissions and keep the 1.5°C goal on track, restoring lost peatlands is essential and urgent. To succeed will require huge up-scaling of policy,  finance and commitments from all stakeholders to support actions. The Convention on Wetlands provides guidance, tools and a platform for all stakeholders to collaborate around this goal.

Read the Convention’s resources on restoring peatlands.

This release is part of the Global Peat Press Project (GP3) campaign, bringing together international partners to highlight the importance of peatlands as vulnerable but valuable ecosystems. It is a coordinated media outreach from the UNEP’s Global Peatlands Initiative (GPI) and the North Pennines AONB Partnership to promote the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). It was conceived to raise awareness and enthusiasm about the role of peatlands in climate action in the run-up to the UNFCCC COP26 in November, and has now pivoted to focus on the vital importance of peatlands for nature, aiming to build momentum and interest in advance of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 in April next year. A relay of stories from peatland projects worldwide, GP3 started with the UK, as the host of COP26, which took place in Glasgow, Scotland.

The relay has already featured:

-        the North Pennines AONB

-        the Care-Peat project in Belgium

-        NUI Galway/ Insight Centre

-        Five EU transnational projects (Carbon Connects, Care-Peat, DESIRE, LIFE Peat Restore, and

-        CANAPE)

-        Bax & Company who straddle the UK, Spain and The Netherlands

-        Ulster Wildlife

-        The Lancashire Wildlife Trust

-        The GPI and EUROSITE Peatlands Social Media Campaign

-        NABU

-        Moors for the Future Partnership

-        Metsähallitus with its Hydrology LIFE Project

-        Natural Resources Wales with the LIFE Welsh Raised Bogs Project

-        Community Wetlands Forum and the Landscape Finance Lab

-        Terra Motion

-        Green Restoration Ireland Coop (GRI)

-        a major restoration effort in Belarus recognized by the Ministry of Natural Resources and

-        Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus

-        a second release from Ulster Wildlife

-        The World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) at the UN

-        Griefswald Mire Centre in Germany

-        Conservatoires d’éspaces naturels in France

-        the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

-        a second contribution from the North Pennines AONB

-        CINEA – LIFE

-        Baltic Environmental Forum Lithuania

-        Yorkshire Peat Partnership

-        APB-BirdLife Belarus

-        Frankfurt Zoological Society

-        Tompkins Conservation and Rewilding Argentina

-        Wetlands International

-        Moors for the Future Partnership

and now the baton is held by the Convention on Wetlands.

Join us – share, learn, inspire, experience and act for peatlands, people and the planet. Follow and share using #PeatlandsMatter and #GenerationRestoration.


About the Convention on Wetlands:

The Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The Convention’s mission is: the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.

About the Global Peatlands Initiative (GPI):

The Global Peatlands Initiative is an international partnership launched at the UNFCCC COP in Marrakech, Morocco, in late 2016. Led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), our goal is to protect and conserve peatlands as the world’s largest terrestrial organic carbon stock and to prevent it being emitted into the atmosphere.