Durban UN climate talks: bigger steps needed for peatlands


Source: Wetlands International

Durban, South Africa -- Peatlands must be given much stronger attention at the UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa, calls NGO Wetlands International. Peatlands are the world’s most concentrated and important reservoirs of terrestrial organic carbon and a fast growing source of emissions. They should become ‘no-go zones’.

Climatic hotspots, but slow steps at UNFCCC

Drained peatsoils (for forestry, agriculture or mining) occur on a mere 0,3 percent of the global land surface, but cause some 6 percent of the global carbon dioxide emissions. To reduce emissions, pristine peatlands have to become no-go zones and drained peat soils must be restored.

Whilst there is increasing recognition and discussion on this issue among countries and experts, the development of UNFCCC incentives to reduce the massive emissions from drained peatsoil remains modest. Without fast action to protect and restore peat soils, emissions will grow rapidly.

REDD perverse when excluding peat soils

The UNFCCC mechanism to reduce emissions from the loss and degradation of tropical forests (REDD+) currently focuses on above ground biomass (trees). Neglecting emissions from forest soils would be perverse as carbon reduction credits would be earned while the atmosphere still sees massive emissions.

It would also take away the incentives to tackle the emissions from peat forest soils and drive further drainage activities such as for pulp wood and oil palm plantations to these highly emissive soils.

Kyoto Protocol

For developed countries, negotiators reached agreement in 2010 in Cancun on text to allow countries to use emissions reductions from peatlands for meeting their reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. A final decision has, however, not yet been taken and also the chance exists that accounting for emissions from peat will not become mandatory.

Global mitigation potential

There is enormous mitigation potential from protecting and restoring peatsoils for countries in South-east Asia and Europe, for China, the US, Mongolia, Russia, Papua New Guinea and several African countries, in particular Uganda. Other countries like in the Andes and Canada have huge peat carbon stocks to protect.

No-Go Zones and Rewetting

Once a peatland is converted and drained, the resulting greenhouse gas emissions may continue for decades or centuries. This is often not recognised resulting in strong underestimation of emissions. Emissions can only be reduced by making undisturbed peatlands ‘no-go zones’, shifting existing concession licenses in peat forests to degraded mineral soils, ànd by rewetting drained areas. New production techniques such as wet agriculture (“paludiculture”) can provide significant production benefits while restoring the environmental functions of peatlands.

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