Wetlands International

Position paper: Accounting for peatland hotspots in the new climate agreement


Courtesy of Wetlands International


Peatlands (~organic soils) worldwide store twice as much carbon as all forest biomass, although they cover only a tenth of the land. The drainage of peatlands, for forestry and agriculture, leads to the oxidation of this carbon and increases their vulnerability to peat fires, leading to huge emissions of greenhouse gases.

Hotspots for mitigation

Emissions from drained peatlands currently constitute 5% of total global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, although drained peatlands only occupy 0.4% of the total land area in the world. For several developed and developing countries peatland emissions constitute a significant part of their total emissions. This fact is often overlooked, certainly when peatland only occupies a small area. Over 50% of the total worldwide GHG emissions from peatlands are caused by only 2 countries, whereas 11 countries cover 80% of the total emissions, 19 countries 90% and 27 countries 95%. For some countries emissions from organic soils are much larger than emissions from fossil fuels and cement together (see figures on following pages). To optimally use the mitigation potential of the land (Agriculture and LULUCF = AFOLU), countries should treat peatland as emission hotspots.

Rewetting and sustainable use to reduce emissions

  • The highest priority is to place a ban on draining new peatlands, in order to prevent peatland emissions from sky-rocketing, as emissions from newly drained land add to continuing emissions from earlier drained peatland.
  • To reduce emissions from peatlands, drainage has to be halted and peatland has to be rewetted. Rewetting can focus on the recovery of the ‘original’ ecosystem, but also on the maintenance of productive land use under wet conditions (paludiculture). There is considerable experience with rewetting in various parts of the world.

Peatlands in the new climate agreement:

  • Treat peatlands as lands with high mitigation potential, with adaptation and sustainable development co-benefits, in ADP WS2.
  • More comprehensive accounting for the land sector could involve covering more activities, covering more land or covering more emissions. For cost-efficiency it is wise to focus on hotspots: concentrated emissions with large reduction potential. A hotspot approach combines efficient MRV with environmental integrity.
  • Taking into account the disproportionally large current and potential emissions from
    peatlands, it is essential that accounting for peatlands becomes mandatory in the 2015
  • Mandatory accounting of peatlands can be achieved by a full activity- or land-based accounting of all managed lands, or – more efficiently – with a Wetland Drainage and Rewetting (WDR)-like approach that only accounts for a change in the drainage status of organic soils.
  • It is paramount to prevent peatland drainage and to incentivise rewetting of peatland in non-Annex 1 countries through REDD+ and NAMA’s.
  • AFOLU should use similar reporting and accounting rules (net-net) as the other sectors to simplify inclusion of land use in the ADP, and build comparability and transparency.

Background information:

Current UNFCCC incentives to reduce emissions from peatlands through rewetting

All Annex I countries report emissions and removals from peatlands in the various land categories. Under the Kyoto Protocol peatlands are reported (and accounted when mandatory or elected) under AR/D, forest management (FM), cropland management (CM), grazing land management (GM) and revegetation (RV). The new voluntary accounting activity ‘Drainage and Rewetting’ (WDR) allows Parties for the Second Commitment Period to account for emissions and removals from peatland under agricultural use, if changes in drainage conditions have taken place, even when they have not chosen GM and CM as accounting activities.

All developing countries need to report emissions and removals from peatlands/organic soils. Tropical countries need to take into account that all forested peatlands (peat swamp forests, many mangroves) -even with a shallow peat layer - have more carbon in their soil than in their entire biomass. As a result peatlands/organic soil always constitute a significant pool in these areas and countries. When participating in REDD+, this pool must be taken into account.

Drained non-forested peatlands in non-Annex I countries are often used as grazing land and cropland. Anthropogenic emissions from these lands are huge. NAMA’s provide opportunity to reduce these emissions and tap into the enormous mitigation potential.

Lack of data

Lack of data has been used as an argument to insist that much of the accounting in LULUCF remains voluntary. However, many data on organic soils are already available. Before new LULUCF rules come into operation, peat-rich countries should make sufficient efforts to enable accounting for all emissions/removals from peatlands. Developing countries should receive support for capacity building for reporting and accounting for organic soils.

Rewetting: permanent emission reductions Peatland rewetting reduces emissions. Similar to other emission reduction activities, e.g. in the Energy sector, they do not have problems with non-permanence. All reductions are permanent. Any reductions achieved, have a lasting effect even if the activities come to an end, e.g. if rewetted peatland is drained again.

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