Global conventions kick-start initiative to reduce peat carbon emissions in Paris

Global conventions kick-start initiative to reduce peat carbon emissions in Paris

1 December 2015

UNFCCC COP21 Paris, the Conventions on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar), and Desertification (UNCCD) launched a global map of peatland hotspots at the climate summit in Paris which opened yesterday. The map shows where the most urgent action is needed to reduce the alarmingly high rate of carbon emissions that result from drained and degraded peatlands. 

The launch of the peatland hotspots map marks the start of work to develop an online Global Peatland Atlas. In collaboration with Wetlands International, the Conventions aim to bring together countries, funding sources, experts, the private sector and civil society to identify and accelerate priority actions for peatland conservation, restoration and sustainable management.

Peatlands represent high-carbon value ecosystems. It is estimated that 25-30% of all terrestrial carbon is contained in peatlands -- twice as much carbon as all the biomass of the world’s forests, while only covering 3% of the Earth’s land surface. By conservative estimates, the decomposition of drained peatland generates 1.3 GtC02 emissions per year, or nearly 5% of total global anthropogenic emissions. Emissions from peat fires, such as currently in Indonesia, are additional. Rewetting or restoring these degraded peatlands would make a significant contribution to immediate and short-term efforts to reduce emissions in the land use sector.

"The restoration of peatlands is a key element for achieving the SDG target on Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN). Peatlands sequester a lot of carbon, but their mitigation potential remains largely untapped", UNCCD Executive Secretary, Monique Barbut pointed out. "Achieving LDN by 2030 will involve restoring peatlands and other degraded lands. The LDN actions planned could reduce the emissions by up to 3.3 GtC02e annually by 2030. This is about 25% of the emissions gap that we need to close to stay below the target of 2 degrees Celsius," she added.

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Viru bog

Scientists acknowledge the huge mitigation potential from peatland restoration but initiatives to reduce emissions from the land use sector tend to focus primarily on forests. Peatlands are largely overlooked with regards to climate action. As a result, the resources needed to restore the hydrological and ecological function of these areas is sorely lacking. Efforts to conserve and restore peatlands are underway in some countries, but there is an urgent need to upscale these efforts, especially in the hotspots identified in the new map.

According to Greifswald University, over 50% of the total worldwide GHG emissions from peatlands originate from Indonesia and the EU, and just 8 countries account for 80% of the total emissions from peatlands. About 75% of the EU’s land-related emissions from cropping and grazing result from peatland drainage, while this area covers only 2% of agricultural and grazing land. For a large number of countries, emissions from peatland degradation are much larger than emissions from fossil fuels and cement production combined. Most of these are developing countries in Africa, Asia and the America’s, but also includes seven Annex I countries.

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Autumn is a time spent mostly at the warmth of our houses, Rain keeps coming down from the sky and gusting winds are blowing from all directions. But when you decide to leave your house and head to the bog, you might be in for a surprise- the beauty of the bog might kick you off your feet.

Healthy peatlands help to conserve biodiversity and increase resilience to the impacts of climate change. They provide a wide range of ecosystem functions, from water regulation, storage and filtration to food security and climate and storm protection. For countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, without appropriate action the millions of people living in the lowland peatlands of Sumatra, Central Kalimantan and Sarawak may also experience increasing flood risk before the end of the century. Drained peat soils literally evaporate and subside, accelerating the accumulation of floodwaters in lowland areas that are also susceptible to rising sea levels.

In addition to updating the hotspots map, the Global Peatland Atlas will also highlight important peatland issues related to water regulation, soil subsidence, flooding, and fire risks as well as options and case studies of improved management practices, peatland restoration (including for REDD+) and sustainable production activities.

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