The Environmental Wonders of Peatlands

Introduction

Land preservation has become a common topic brought up in the battle against climate change. Social media sources show us fundraisers to plant trees and buy the land of forests. While this is all great, another action that could be taken that would provide far more value in stopping carbon emissions would be to preserve peatlands. These habitats are rarely considered, but protecting them will prove to be essential to saving the environment.

What Are Peatlands?

Peatlands are waterlogged habitats where plant decomposition is slowed to such a degree that the biomass of the plant matter creates a soil known as peat. Peatland can take hundreds and even thousands of years to form. This results in marshy land built from decomposing plant matter with a living flora of moss, grass, and other vegetation living on the surface.

How Do Peatlands Benefit The Environment?

Peatlands hold enormous amounts of carbon that are not seen in any other habitat. In fact, peatlands store ten times more carbon per acre than any other ecosystem. While the media give planting trees attention, peatlands contain more carbon than forests despite making up just 3% of the Earth’s surface. Additionally, peatland preservation is highly cost-effective. Flood prevention and supporting biodiversity are other benefits that peatlands provide.

What Are The Drawbacks?

Peatlands ability to hold carbon so well is both a blessing and a curse. If these habitats are disrupted, they can become destructive greenhouse gas chimneys. Drained peatlands make up only 0.3% of the Earth’s surface but account for 5% of all artificial carbon dioxide emissions. Most of this draining has come in recent years to clear room for palm oil and pulpwood plantations.

How Should We Manage Peatlands?

The Strategy for Responsible Peatland Management is a set of objectives and proposed actions created by the International Peatland Society as a framework for peatland preservation. The document considers eight priority objectives and lists steps that should be taken for each. Here is a breakdown of some of the most important actions proposed by the IPS:

  • “Formulate guidelines for peatland biodiversity conservation according to Wise Use principles and recommendations of the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (1992)” (Biodiversity, 3.1.3).
  • “Water management on peatlands is based on best available knowledge and techniques and carried out according to international conventions and regional and national legislation and priorities” (Hydrology and Water Regulation, 3.2.3).
  • “The carbon stores and carbon sequestration functions of peatlands should be protected and conserved in accordance with the requirements of international conventions and regional and national statutory requirements and management plans should include mitigation measures to maximise peat carbon stores and minimize greenhouse gas emissions” (Climate and Climate Change Processes, 3.3.3).
  • “Carry out environmental and social impact assessments at the planning stage of economic use and it should be a requirement of those responsible for developing…” (Economic Activities, 3.4.3).
  • “Prepare mandatory after-use plans during the initial planning process of peatland management and in enough time for a wide range of opinions and options to be incorporated” (After-use, Rehabilitation and Restoration, 3.5.3).
  • “Support provision of institutional training facilities to provide specific programmes focused on peatlands as a natural resource comparable to current provisions for forestry, fish and wildlife” (Human and Institutional Capacity and Information Dissemination, 3.6.3).
  • “Apply open and transparent planning and management procedures, including dissemination of information, early in the planning process and stress the significance of peatlands to local people and the importance of considering and including their views” (Engagement of People, 3.7.3).
  • “Governments provide updated legislation governing peatlands and enforce it appropriately” (Good Governance, 3.8.3).

Peatlands are undeniably a powerful force in the issue of climate change, and just like any power, it can be used for good or bad. Peatland preservation is vital to protecting the environment. Only 7.9 million acres of peatland are protected, but if 608 million acres become protected by 2050 (⅔ of total peatlands), 21.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions can be avoided. Protecting peatlands is not something that can be ignored if we are to save the environment.

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The cover photograph of this article was taken from peatlands.org.

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