Peat and Greet
In times when handling emissions is critical, preserving peatlands proves to be a key approach to tackling climate change. Our latest project aims towards this goal.
To state peatlands are indispensable ecosystems in the fight against climate warming would be on point. To indicate that they can be as twice as effective for carbon storage purposes as forests are would, moreover, get a green light from any fact-checker. But, perhaps before any such conclusive statement, a most basic question tends to come to mind for any distracted reader: what is a peatland to start with?
Firstly, peats are organic soil, largely consisting of dead organic matter and visible plant remains, that accumulate. When in waterlogged conditions, peats — and their plant materials — are prevented from fully decomposing and become terrestrial wetland ecosystems. Under these conditions — where full decomposition is prevented — the production of organic matter exceeds the decomposition rate. Then, peats accumulate, peatlands happen, and carbon is kept locked within them.
So, that is Peatlands 101. There are different kinds of them, without a doubt. For instance, bogs are peatlands whose waterlogging conditions are due to precipitation only. There are fens, too, that besides precipitation also have groundwater in them. A swamp is a more known concept. Taking out of the picture the folklore around a swamp monster, swamps are forested wetlands; more often than not, temperate and tropical peatlands are swamps.
Now that we have the big picture, behold the big number: according to the Global Peatlands Assessment, the total global area of peatlands covers 5 million km2 — around 3-4% of the planet’s land surface. Europe, specifically, is home to 12 % of all peatlands globally.
Preserving Peats, Accomplishing Feats
Next question: what is the importance of preserving these wetland ecosystems? Simply put, their mitigation potential to tackle climate change. As preliminarily indicated, healthy peatlands can be the most space-efficient long-term carbon stores in our planet’s terrestrial biosphere — with the potential to store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests. This fact, in a moment where humankind is in critical need of addressing the climate crises, speaks for itself.
Nevertheless, despite their importance, the Global Peatlands Assessment brings a rather concerning stat: “Worldwide, around 12 % of current peatlands are degraded to the extent that peat is no longer formed and the accumulated peat carbon stock is being lost.” This degradation is due to peatlands having been drained for agricultural use, extracted for horticultural use, or burned and mined for fuel. Europe is among the continents with the largest peatland loss: while its overall peatland area represents around 6 % of its territory, the total proportion of degraded peatlands currently stands at 46.4 %.
So, what happens when a carbon store, as peatlands are, is degraded? Emissions, indeed. And for the sake of understanding the impact of degrading peatlands in the bigger emissions picture, according to a study led by Franziska Tanneberger, drained peatlands in the EU alone generate close to 25 % of the total agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
In other words, protecting peats is not among our feats.
Not yet at least.
Building a Peatland Alliance
CEEweb for Biodiversity, together with Eurosite (The European Land Conservation Network), the European Landowners’ Organization (ELO), and the Michael Succow Foundation – Partner in Greifswald Mire Centre, gathered on 4-5 April in Berlin, Germany, to officially kick-off the “Building the European Peatlands Initiative: A Strong Alliance for Peatland Climate Protection in Europe” project. Funded by the European Climate Initiative (EUKI), this 2,5-year long project aims to enhance climate mitigation and the reduction of GHG emissions through a pan-European collaboration for the conservation and restoration of peatlands.
Included in its scope to achieve its goals is working with national governments to deliver policies to protect them, as well as identifying ways to manage them in a way where livelihoods dependent on them are not affected — thus, also tackling financial solutions to cover both the social and the environmental challenges.
While the project will run until 30 April 2025, this kick-off meeting represented the stepping stone to discussing strategic issues as to how the EUKI-funded Peatlands project is to develop.
CEEweb will have a leading role in assessing and supporting national peatland-related strategies and policies which are currently in place in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). We expect an outcome which will support governments, decision-makers, national authorities, researchers, conservationists, landowners and farmers and other relevant stakeholders from CEE, and in the wider European context, to make the right choices by understanding the importance and potential of these precious and unique areas of land: the peatlands.
About the Donor
The European Climate Initiative (EUKI) is a project financing instrument by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK). The EUKI competition for project ideas is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. It is the overarching goal of the EUKI to foster climate cooperation within the European Union (EU) in order to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.