If we want to protect forests and life on land, safeguard our oceans, create massive economic opportunities, prevent even more massive losses and improve the health and well-being of the planet, we have one simple option staring us in the face: climate action.

– UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres (31.05.17)

The world’s peatlands are under threat from drainage for development ranging from conversion for use for agriculture, forestry, resource extraction and infrastructure development and this has enormous implications for climate action. On average, peatlands hold 137,500 tonnes of carbon per square kilometre (1,375 tonnes per hectare) making them the most carbon dense of any terrestrial ecosystem in the world (Joosten & Couwenberg, 2008). In other words, the amount of carbon held in a single hectare of wet peatland is equivalent to the annual emissions of 1,400 passenger cars.

Seen from this perspective, peatlands are one of our greatest allies in the fight against climate change. By conserving and restoring peatlands we can reduce global emissions and revive and conserve this natural carbon sink. Peatlands in pristine condition lock in carbon, however, degraded peatlands are strong net emitters of greenhouse gases. These emissions continue as long as the peatland remains drained and the peat continues to oxidize. This process can last for decades or centuries and is very different from the instantaneous emissions that come from clearing forests. Conserving pristine peatlands, as well as restoring and improving the management of peatlands and other organic soils, contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere. Peatlands are also important for food security and poverty reduction (FAO & Wetlands International, 2012). Current greenhouse gas emissions from drained or burning peatlands are estimated to be up to five percent of all emissions caused by human activity – in the range of two billion tonnes of CO 2 per year. If the world has any hope of keeping the global average temperature increase under two degrees Celsius then urgent action must be taken to keep the carbon locked in peatlands where it is – wet, and in the ground to prevent an increase in emissions. Furthermore, already drained peatlands must be rewetted to halt their ongoing significant emissions. However, this is not as simple as it seems. Knowing the location of peatlands continues to be a challenge.

Global Peatlands Initiative

The Global Peatlands Initiative (GPI) is an international partnership formed in 2016 to save peatlands as the world’s largest terrestrial organic carbon stock. The Initiative partners are working to improve the conservation, restoration and sustainable management of peatlands to protect this critical ecosystem and to prevent the carbon it stores from being released into the atmosphere. Peatlands are unique ecosystems that have a critical role in the landscape and provide essential ecosystem services. Drawing attention to peatland issues and helping countries and partners to understand and make evidence-based decisions about their management will enable the Initiative to contribute to several Sustainable Development Goals by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, maintaining ecosystem services and securing lives and livelihoods while improving people’s’ ability to adapt to change. This Rapid Response Assessment is a key step on the road toward the Initiative making an impact and advancing climate action. It focuses on raising awareness and stimulating an exchange between decision makers and stakeholders on the importance of peatlands and the contributions they make to climate, people and the planet.


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