Currently, the only land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) activities that are eligible under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) are afforestation and reforestation (A/R), which allow for the generation of credits by net removal by sinks. This could include afforestation and reforestation of wet organic soils (peatlands), e.g. with peatswamp forest tree species.
Conservation, rehabilitation and improved management of (non-forested) peatlands are currently not eligible under the CDM, although the potential for reducing high greenhouse gas emissions is large. Including avoided peatland drainage and peatland rewetting in the CDM would therefore cover an important gap and provide an incentive for very effective and low cost measures for climate change mitigation. In addition, these projects would deliver significant non-carbon benefits in terms of ecosystem services, biodiversity, indigenous people’s rights, and prevention of soil subsidence and fire hazards.
For the CDM to become a more useful tool to reduce emissions from peatlands, Wetlands International proposes to expand the range of applicable activities by two new activities under the CDM: “Avoided drainage of peatland” (cf. avoidance of deforestation under REDD+) and “Rewetting” (cf. the Kyoto Protocol art. 3.4. activity Wetland Drainage and Rewetting – WDR).
Rationale for adding Avoided drainage and Rewetting as additional LULUCF activities to the CDM
On only 3% of the world’s land surface, peatlands hold 30% (550 GT carbon) of all soil carbon, an amount equivalent to 75% of all atmospheric carbon and twice the carbon stock of the entire forest biomass of the world. The vast majority of the carbon in peatlands is stored below ground, in the peat soil. This carbon is released to the atmosphere when the peatland is drained, when vegetation is (partly or totally) removed, and when peat fires occur.
Most conventional land use practices on peatlands require drainage. Peat oxidation due to drainage leads to the release of the stored carbon back into the atmosphere as CO2. Due to the enormous size of the peat carbon pool, drained peatlands have become one of the major global sources of GHG emissions. Altogether the global CO2 emissions from drained peatlands (covering a mere 0.3% of the global land surface) amount to some 2 Gigatonnes CO2 annually, equivalent to almost 6% of the global anthropogenic CO2 emissions, representing almost 25% of the total carbon emission from the LULUCF sector. Unlike the emissions from forest clearance (which are largely instantaneous), the emissions from drained peatlands continue for decades and even centuries as long as the land remains drained and the peat continues to oxidise.
Because drained peatlands are a hotspot for GHG emissions, ensuring that peatlands remain wet (through avoiding drainage of wet and rewetting of drained peatlands) is one of the most cost-efficient measures to mitigate climate change. Conserving and rehabilitating peatlands does not mean that these areas become off-limits to economic activity. Several options for sustainable use of wet peatlands exist, and local communities have made use of such opportunities for centuries. In addition, peatlands can be cultivated with crops adapted to the wet soil conditions – a practice known as paludiculture.