Effects of peatland degradation

sources of greenhouse gas emissions that can continue for decades and beyond (Limpens et al., 2008; Parish et al., 2008; Joosten, 2010; Urák et al., 2017). Once drained, peatlands become vulnerable to more frequent and deeper fires, which make a substantial contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Half the world’s peatland emissions come from Southeast Asia where a combination of deforestation, deep drainage and high temperatures boosts peat decomposition and the incidence of fires (Joosten et al., 2012; Biancalani et al., 2014). For example, in 2015, Indonesia experienced, “the year’s worst environmental disaster” (The Guardian, 2015) which, following an exceptionally dry year brought on by a particularly strong El Niño weather system, saw emissions from peat fires alone reach between 1.5 to 1.75 GtCO 2 e, more than the entire total annual emissions of Japan for that year (World Bank, 2015; Field et al., 2016; UNFCCC, 2017). This trend continues globally with large and uncontrollable fires every dry season.

Many human activities in peatlands cause changes in ecological processes, ecosystem structure and species composition (Limpens et al., 2008), usually as a result of drainage and the destruction of native vegetation (Parish et al., 2008). The social and environmental impacts can continue for decades or even centuries, with huge economic consequences. These result in land loss from subsidence, fires and their associated haze, reduced water quality, loss of unique biodiversity, loss of the potential for the sustainable use of peatlands (paludiculture), as well as a contribution to global warming caused by loss of peat carbon stocks. Greenhouse gas emissions When peatlands are drained, peat comes into contact with air and oxidation of organic matter starts releasing the accumulated carbon and nitrogen into the air. In this way peatlands are converted from long-term carbon reservoirs into

Emissions from peatlands by country Emissions from peatlands by country

Mt CO 2 Mt CO 2

e 1 5 0 e 1 5 0

10 40 100 10 40 100

L ÓPEZ , 2017 L ÓPEZ , 2017

Source: Wetlands International, Briefing paper: accelerating action to Save Peat for Less Heat! Source: Wetlands International, Briefing paper: accelerating action to Save Peat for Less Heat!

Figure 10. Countries with the most peatland and highest carbon dioxide emissions due to peatland degradation.


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