FAO reports that drained peatlands are contributing to climate change

Peatlands exist in all countries in Europe and Central Asia including Russia, which has the largest coverage of peatlands in the world. FAO reports that not only are these rare ecosystems at risk, but in their current condition they are often contributing to climate change.

Peatlands are wetlands with a thick layer of organic soil, composed of decayed plant material, or “peat.” While peatlands cover just three percent of all land area worldwide, they store 30 percent of the Earth’s soil carbon. Plant and animal biodiversity flourish in these rare ecosystems, too. Natural peatlands are used for collection of berries (cranberry and cloudberry), mushrooms and medicinal plants.

Learn more about peatlands and climate change by looking at the infographic, or the guide to mitigating climate change through conservation, rehabilitation and sustainable use of peatlands. The guide includes case studies from Belarus, Russian Federation, and Ukraine.

Nowadays, peatlands are often protected, but over centuries, many natural peatlands were drained for conventional agriculture or forestry. Drainage causes oxidation of the organic material, which leads to the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In fact, peatlands are the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the agriculture, forestry and land use sectors (after livestock and crop production, and conversion of forests to other land uses).

Along with increasing greenhouse gas emissions, peatland drainage causes vegetation cover to change, fire incidents become more frequent, and unique species – such as the Sumatran tiger, already on the verge of extinction – lose their natural habitat.

Many drained peatlands are becoming now abandoned due to declining productivity. Even so, emission of greenhouse gases continues.

Drainage of peatlands is a worldwide phenomenon. In Europe, the following countries are concerned in particular: Belarus, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Poland, the Russian Federation, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

To cope with these negative consequences, FAO recommends the following:

  • safeguard and preserve intact peatlands
  • re-wet already drained peatlands
  • apply climate-responsible peatlands management
  • implement adaptive management where rewetting is not possible.

Efforts to mitigate climate change in general will also contribute to saving the Earth’s peatlands.