Environmental Laboratory

Are Peatlands Important for the Environment?

Feb 14 2018 Read 1158 Times

In 2015, data from the World Bank indicated that forested areas accounted for 30.8% of the world’s total land surface. By contrast, peatlands occupy ten times less surface area (just 3%) but are still capable of storing double the amount of carbon as their forested counterparts.

Why, then, are all the headlines regarding conservation being dominated by deforestation? Of course, it remains incredibly important to safeguard the future of our rainforests and jungles, but the carbon sequestration potential of peat should not go underappreciated.

World Wetlands Day

At the beginning of the month (February 2nd), World Wetlands Day aimed to raise awareness about the vital benefits that wetlands and peatlands all over the world provide. Not only are they breeding grounds for a vast amount of flora and fauna, they can also represent a colossal ally in the fight against climate change.

The largest internationally-recognised wetland in the world is found in central Africa. Straddling the border between the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Cuvette Centrale covers an incredible 50,000 square miles. This massive tract of land currently stores approximately 30 gigatons of carbon, which is equivalent to the amount of carbon emitted by the entire United States in a 15-year period.

With that in mind, the Global Peatlands Initiative (GPI) is a conglomerate of more than 20 participating partners led by UN Environment. It aims to conserve, restore and manage peatlands in Africa and beyond.

A biosphere under threat

The plight of the peatlands was put under the international spotlight in 2015, when fires across Indonesia decimated people’s homes, businesses and environment. This, coupled with a growing market for continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMS) in the developing world, has elevated wetland conservation to the top of the list.

It’s not only natural disasters which threaten the longevity of wetlands, either. These important zones are continually under threat from land developers who wish to use the land for agriculture, infrastructure, forestation and resource extraction. As such, champions of peatlands are fighting an uphill battle to have the value of the land recognised for the immense asset that it is.

Conservation is compulsory

Scientists first began to suspect the huge boons that peatlands could provide back in 2009, when a study in Denmark monitored levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) stored inside the wet soil. Since then, the profile of peatlands has risen significantly – but there is still much work to be done.

“For the world to keep the global average temperature increase under 2°C, then peatlands must gain our attention,” explained Dianna Kopansky, UN expert on the subject. “Urgent action must be taken, especially in the tropics to keep the carbon locked in peatlands where it is – wet, and in the ground.”

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