Report urges swift action on peatland restoration to reduce global emissions

Julie Mollins
6 January 2018

BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — Governments must unite in efforts to develop strategic economic and environmental policies to protect biodiversity and revive peatlands, secure carbon storage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, according to a new report from the Global Peatlands Initiative.

Worldwide, peatlands face threats from agricultural, forestry and development activities, which often lead to drainage and burning believed to cause up to 5 percent of annual carbon dioxide emissions, said experts speaking at the launch of the “Smoke on Water” report at the Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, Germany in December.

Although peatlands – comprised of layers of decomposed organic material built up over thousands of years – extend over only 3 percent of the world’s land mass, they contain as much carbon as all terrestrial biomass and twice as much as all forest biomass. About 15 percent of known peatlands have already been destroyed or degraded.

Drained peatlands are responsible for 5 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions, said Hans Joosten, secretary general of the International Mire Conservation Group, adding that undrained peatlands must be kept wet, and where possible, peatlands that are already drained must be re-wet.

“The bottom line is that peatlands must be wet,” Joosten said. “We must be creative. The peatlands must remain wet. Do not enter them, do not use them — we shouldn’t jeopardize them.”

When peatlands are drained, they become more vulnerable to fire and can burn for long periods of time, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, killing plants and animals, and releasing toxins that negatively affect human and animal health. Associated land degradation leads to greater susceptibility to land subsidence, salt-water intrusion, flooding and erosion, the report said.

INDONESIA RESTORATION

About 50 percent of the world’s peatland emissions originate in Southeast Asia due to high deforestation rates, drainage and hot temperatures that increase the rate of drying, the report said.

In Indonesia, the country with the third largest peatland area after Russia and Canada, 2015 peat fires released more carbon dioxide than Japan’s total country emissions that same year, the report said.

In 2011, the Indonesian government established a moratorium on the conversion of primary forest and peatlands more than 3 meters deep. In 2016, the moratorium was extended to cover all peatlands.

Companies were also instructed to restore peatlands and the government established the Peatland Restoration Agency to meet a goal of restoring 20,000 square kilometers of degraded peatlands by 2020, the report states.

“Indonesia rewetted more peatlands last year than Europe over the past 30 years,” Joosten said.

Countries will face significant challenges in efforts to meet the U.N. anti-poverty Sustainable Development Goals by 2013 if they do not find ways to prevent further emissions as they expand agricultural and economic development, the report said.

“Peatlands must be treated as lands with a high climate mitigation potential that also offer strong opportunities for climate adaptation, biodiversity conservation and contribute significantly to sustainable development,” the report said, citing Wetlands International.

“The necessary fiscal arrangements must be put in place to support new research and fund conservation and management activity, discourage damaging activities and ensure the restoration and good management of peatlands into the future,” it said. “These arrangements must assist governments that are unable to pay for extensive research, restoration or other activities. In these cases, private sector involvement is required.”

Indonesia is following a practical process of planning, implementing, monitoring and reporting, and evaluation to achieve targets, said Alue Dohong of the Peatland Restoration Agency during the discussion at the Global Landscapes Forum.

The 3R approach involves: re-wetting; re-vegetation and revitalization of local livelihoods, he said.

Related:

Smoke on Water: Countering global threats from peatland loss and degradation

Global Landscapes Forum to fast track livelihood protection in Congo Basin

Restoring peatlands at scale builds inclusive green growth