Wetlands International

New global initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands


Source: Wetlands International

Bonn -- Today, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the non-governmental organisation Wetlands International launch ‘The Organic Soils and Peatlands Climate Change Mitigation Initiative’. The Initiative has been established to increase awareness about how the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of peatlands can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, and to facilitate strategic actions that can lead to measurable progress in this area. The Initiative will be launched during the intersessional climate session of the United Nations in Bonn (13–25 May).

Peatlands and organic soils cover only about 3 percent of the planet’s land surface, but they are found in almost every country of the world. Although covering a relatively small area, peatlands contain nearly 30 percent of all carbon on the land. When drained they make a large contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. About 15 percent of the world’s peatlands have been drained and used for agriculture, grazing and forestry. In some tropical areas, they are being drained to make way for oil palm plantations used for food and production of  biofuels. The drainage of peatlands and peat fires are responsible for almost one quarter of carbon dioxide emissions from the land use sector, or about 6 percent of global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions.  

These numbers indicate that conserving, restoring and improving the management of organic soils and peatlands can have a substantial impact on reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. “In order for the land use sector to efficiently contribute to the global effort to mitigate climate change, we need to focus on emission hotspots, such as peatlands and organic soils”, says Marja-Liisa Tapio-Biström from FAO. “At the same time we must also look at how peatlands can contribute to conserving other vital environmental services and other important societal goals, including food security in a sustainable way'.

Members of the Initiative are working to inform that peatlands conservation and restoration, and improved peatlands management are realistic goals that can be reached. It is low-hanging fruit in global efforts to make progress on climate change mitigation, adaptation and climate-smart agriculture.

“We need to prevent any further degradation of peatlands”, says Susanna Tol of Wetlands International. “We need to understand that these large emissions can continue decades or even centuries after peatlands have been converted into other uses. The key message we want to convey is that it is urgent to keep peatlands wet. When possible, we need to restore drained peatlands and make them wet again. If this is not possible, we need to adopt other forms of restricted impact land management”.

An informal network of organisations and international experts, the Organic Soils and Peatlands Climate Change Mitigation Initiative seeks to:

  • stimulate the use of available financial incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands;
  • provide input into the development of additional incentives and policies;
  • provide guidance on management options for cultivated and uncultivated peatlands;
  • provide information on methodologies and data available to quantify emissions;
  • provide practical solutions concerning measuring, reporting and verification and accounting; and
  • identify, stimulate and facilitate further research.

Institutions currently involved in the Initiative include FAO, Wetlands International, Greifswald University, IUCN UK Peatland Programme, Global Research Alliance, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Global Environment Centre (GEC), the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the University of Helsinki.

At the launch in Bonn (Room Wind, Ministry of Environment (Moe) from 20.00-21.30hr), the Initiative will release its first publication, ‘Peatlands – guidance for climate change mitigation by conservation, rehabilitation and sustainable use’. Download the publication.

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