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Global assessment reveals huge potential of peatlands as a climate solution

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18.1.2023

Peatlands cover around 3–4% of the world’s land surface area, but are responsible for storing nearly one-third of its soil carbon. Keeping this carbon locked away is absolutely critical to achieving global climate goals.

Globally, around 50 million hectares of peatlands have been drained. This damaged area is equivalent to around 12% of current peatlands, but contributes 4% of global human-induced GHG emissions annually. Restoring degraded peatlands would contribute 10% of the total emission reductions and removals, provided by nature-based solutions across all ecosystems by 2030. 

These findings are part of the Global Peatlands Assessment, published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Global Peatlands Assessment provides an evidence base on the status of peatlands and their importance in the global carbon cycle and it is prepared by 226 peatland experts from over 50 countries. Researchers from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) participated in the study, especially in coordinating the chapters for Europe and for Policy and governance options for conservation, restoration and sustainable management. The report is the first comprehensive global assessment of peatlands in almost 15 years. 

Almost 50% of the European peatland area is degraded

In the European continent, peatlands cover 59 million hectares and almost 50% of the European peatland area is degraded. This makes Europe the second largest current greenhouse gas emitter from drained peatlands at close to 600 Mt CO2eq per year and also the highest historical emitter in cumulative terms.

Large-scale, drainage-based economic use of peatlands began in Europe over a thousand years ago and still includes a wide range of uses from food, fodder, timber and energy production from peat extraction. In several European countries, large scale restoration programmes are now underway, although to date these are addressing only a fraction of the damaged area.

“The report emphasizes that drained peatlands can be a key element of the solution rather than a part of the problem. Sustainable peatland management and restoration can be deployed as a nature-based solution to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, to halt biodiversity loss, and support climate change adaptation, At the same time, these management actions can provide a living and income for the local communities ”, says Senior Scientist  Tuula Larmola from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke).

To conserve and restore peatlands, more resources are needed. Funding may draw on a blend of public and market mechanisms. Peatland-rich countries are also urged to include peatlands in their climate targets (NDCs).

The report also recommends

  • actions by farmers and the general public, such as re-wetting drained farmland, using peat-substitutes for horticulture and gardening, and using clean energy instead of burning peat for heating. decreasing the use of peat for energy.
  • Initiate medium-term plans for phasing-out harmful operations
  • Create subsidies and fiscal mechanisms that incentivize practices that support the protection, restoration and sustainable management of peatlands.
  • Use blended finance to combine public and private sector funding to scale-up the conservation, restoration and sustainable management of peatlands.
  • Establish robust monitoring frameworks and develop and maintain data systems on peatland extent, condition and uses

European Highlights

Total peatland area (hectares) 5,9 milj. ha
Peatland cover over total region surface area (%) 6,0%
Degraded peatlands (%) 46,4%
Annual GHG emissions from peatlands (Megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per year) 582,0 Mt CO2ekv./ vuosi
Undegraded peatlands (%) 53,6%
Peatlands within protected areas (%) 19,7%
Top 5 Countries with largest peatland area (hectares)
  1. European Russia (20800000 ha)
  2. Finland (8313381 ha)
  3. Sweden (6797032 ha)
  4. Norway (4865000 ha)
  5. Belarus (3014298 ha)
Total peatland carbon stock2 (Megatons of carbon) 43620 Mt C
Threatened peatland species3 (VU = vulnerable; EN = endangered; CR = critically endangered)

Flora: 6 VU, 10 EN, 5 CR
Fauna: 32 VU, 12 EN, 8 CR

Global Peatlands Assessment, Global Peatland Database, Greifswald Mire Centre; Joosten  ym. 2009. Global Peatland CO2 Picture, Wetlands International; IUCN red list of Threatened  Species, Ramsar Sites Information Service.