For Climate Change Mitigation, Don’t Forget the Peatlands
Protecting peatland areas can be a cost-effective way to reduce as much as 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report launched December 11 in Bali, Indonesia. “Just like a global phaseout of old, energy-guzzling light bulbs or a switch to hybrid cars, protecting and restoring peatlands is perhaps another key ‘low hanging fruit’...for climate change mitigation,” said Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary General and the executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Peatlands are wetland ecosystems that accumulate plant material over time to form layers of peat soil up to 20 meters thick. They are present in 180 countries, cover 3 percent of the world’s surface, and store an average of 10 times more carbon per hectare than other ecosystems. Peatlands are also home to a large share of the world’s freshwater resources and are critical in biodiversity conservation, including for species such as the orangutan and certain cranes.
But peatlands are in danger. Each year, clearing, draining, and setting fire to peatlands emits more than 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide—equivalent to 10 percent of global emissions from fossil fuels. Human activities and climate change post a particular threat to mountain and coastal peatlands as well as to permafrost, the melting of which may increase emissions of methane, another powerful greenhouse gas, in some areas, according to UNEP’s Steiner.
The new report, compiled by a multidisciplinary team, is the first-ever assessment of “the relationship between peatlands, biodiversity and climate change...on a global level,” said Faizal Parish, director of the Malaysia-based Global Environment Center, which coordinated the study. The authors urge the international community to integrate wetlands conservation into climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. Investments in peatland protection and restoration can be up to 100 times more cost-effective than other carbon sequestration measures, says Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Marcel Silvius of Wetlands International stresses the importance of adopting appropriate climate mitigation measures on peatlands. “Cultivation of biofuel crops such as soy, oil palm, or sugar cane on peatlands generates much more CO2 emissions than saved through fossil fuel substitution,” he says. “Construction of wind farms and hydropower reservoirs on peatlands also generate significant emissions,” he adds.
This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.