The United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, recently adopted its first-ever Peatland Resolution.
The adoption of the global resolution on the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Peatlands encourages Member States and other stakeholders to put greater focus on the worldwide conservation, sustainable management, and restoration of peatlands.
The peatlands in the central Congo basin require significant investment and more research to safeguard them. The peatlands face significant threats due to hydrocarbon exploration, logging, palm oil plantations, hydroelectric dams, and climate change.
What are Peatlands?
- Peatlands are a type of wetlands. It refers to the peat soil and the wetland habitat growing on its surface. They are a type of wetland that occurs in almost every country on the globe, currently covering 3% of the global land surface.
- They occur in different climate zones. While in tropical climates, they can occur in mangroves, Arctic regions,
- Peatland landscapes are varied – from blanket bog landscapes with open, treeless vegetation in the Flow Country of Scotland – a tentative World Heritage site – to swamp forests in Southeast Asia.
- They are formed due to the accumulation of partially decomposed plant remains over thousands of years under conditions of water logging. Peatlands are terrestrial wetland ecosystems in which waterlogged conditions prevent plant material from fully decomposing.
- Peats are a heterogeneous mixture of plant material that has accumulated in a water-saturated region and is only partly decomposed due to the lack of oxygen (vascular plants, mosses, and hummus).
- Consequently, the production of organic matter exceeds its decomposition, which results in a net accumulation of peat. Over millennia this material builds up and becomes several meters thick.
- In permafrost regions towards the poles and at high altitudes, in coastal areas, under tropical rainforests and in boreal forests, they are mainly found. Russia, Canada, Indonesia, the USA, Finland, etc. are the countries with the highest peatland areas.
- Peatlands are the largest natural terrestrial carbon store. They are important not just for their carbon but also for their crucial role in the storage and cycling of water and nutrients.
- Peatlands provide drinking water, mitigate the risk of climate change and flood risk and secure the livelihoods of communities that live in these landscapes.
- Damaged peatlands are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, annually releasing almost 6% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
- There are several international and regional agreements and conventions exist, such as the Ramsar Convention, the United Nations Environmental Assembly Resolution, and the Brazzaville Declaration on Peatlands, with provisions for the sustainable management of peatlands and their protection.
- Congo basin has the world’s largest tropical peatlands, discovered in 2017. Also known as the Cuvette Centrale peats, the world’s largest tropical complex covers over 145,500 square kilometers.
What are the threats to Peatland?
The peatlands face significant threats due to hydrocarbon exploration, logging, palm oil plantations, hydroelectric dams, and climate change.
- A lack of awareness: of the benefits of peatlands means that they have been severely overexploited and damaged as a result of actions including drainage, agricultural conversion, burning, and mining for fuel, among others.
- Drainage for agriculture: Drained peatlands are mainly used for agriculture and forestry, and peat is extracted for horticulture and energy production. CO2 emissions from drained peatlands are estimated at 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 annually. This is equivalent to 5.6% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
- Commercial Forestry: It is the second greatest cause of land-use changes in peatland mostly prevalent in Scandinavian countries, the UK, Russia, South-East Asia, etc.
- Peat extraction and usage: Peat as a source of energy is being used on a large scale by households. It is also used as raw material for producing growing media for professional horticulture and for home gardening.
- Infrastructure Development: Conversion of peatlands in coastal areas to meet the urban development, waste disposal needs, and development of roads and other infrastructure.
- When peatlands are degraded or destroyed: Peatland destruction leads to releasing vast amounts of CO2; – Burning, draining, and degrading peat bogs emit carbon dioxide equivalent to more than one-tenth of the global emissions released from burning fossil fuels.
Peatlands and climate change
- Peatlands are a type of wetland that is critical for preventing and mitigating the effects of climate change, preserving biodiversity, minimizing flood risk, and ensuring safe drinking water.
- It is the largest natural terrestrial carbon store. They store more carbon than all other vegetation types in the world combined.
- Damaged peatlands are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for almost 5% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
- This terrestrial restoration can reduce emissions significantly.
- Countries should include peatland conservation and restoration in their commitments to international agreements, including the Paris Agreement on climate change.
What are the Conservation Efforts?
- There are several international and regional agreements and conventions, such as the Ramsar Convention, the United Nations Environmental Assembly Resolution, and the Brazzaville Declaration on Peatlands, with provisions for the sustainable management of peatlands and their protection.
- However, there is an urgent need to strengthen national institutions and frameworks for the effective application and implementation of these agreements and commitments, the report
- In some areas, year-round waterlogged conditions slow the process of plant decomposition to such an extent that dead plants accumulate to form peat. Over millennia this material builds up and becomes several meters thick.
Global Peatlands Initiative:
- The Global Peatlands Initiative is an effort by leading experts and institutions formed by 13 founding members at the UNFCCC COP in Marrakech, Morocco in 2016 to save peatlands as the world’s largest terrestrial organic carbon stock and to prevent it being emitted into the atmosphere.
- Partners to the Initiative are working together within their respective areas of expertise to improve the conservation, restoration, and sustainable management of peatlands.
- One of the first outputs of the Global Peatlands Initiative will be an assessment, which will focus on the status of peatlands and their importance in the global carbon cycle. It will also examine the importance of peats for national economies.
- It was signed to promote better management and conservation of the Cuvette Centrale Region in the Congo Basin in the backdrop of the 3rd Conference of Partners of the Global Peatlands Initiative (GPI), 2018.
Importance of Peatlands
Peatlands are critical for preserving global biodiversity, providing safe drinking water, minimizing flood risk, and helping address climate change.
- Peatlands are highly significant to global efforts to combat climate change, as well as wider sustainable development goals. The protection and restoration of these lands are vital in the transition towards a low-carbon and circular economy. Damaged peats are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, annually releasing almost 6% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Peatland restoration can therefore bring significant emissions reductions.
- Peatlands are the largest natural terrestrial carbon store; the area covered by near natural peatlands worldwide (>3 million km2) sequesters 0.37 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year – storing more carbon than all other vegetation types in the world combined.
- Supporting the water cycle: controlling water flow, exerting a cooling effect by evaporation and cloud formation during hot periods, playing an important role in the conservation of contaminants and nutrients and purification of water, counteracting eutrophication of water bodies, and also preventing saltwater intrusion.
- Supporting rare and critically endangered biodiversity: A variety of endangered species, including Sumatran tigers, gorillas, and orangutans, live in tropical peats.
- Supporting livelihoods: in the boreal and temperate regions, they are the source of fruit, mushrooms, and medicinal plants and of non-timber forest products in the tropical regions. The peat itself is also used as fuel. In many parts of the world, they supply food, fiber, and other local products that sustain local economies.
- As a cultural landscape and archive: some of the most evocative geological finds of recent decades, such as the ‘sweet tracks’ of the 4th millennium BCE footpath, also preserve important ecological and archaeological information such as pollen records and human artifacts.
- To preserve these endangered habitats and their services to people, a landscape approach is crucial and good practices in peatland management and regeneration must be communicated and applied across all peatland landscapes.
- Rewetting: It is a vital phase in the regeneration of peatlands since their sustainability depends on waterlogged conditions.
- Plaudiculture and sustainable management techniques: This is a method of growing crops on damp soils, particularly in peatlands. Fish farming or the pursuit of ecotourism may be other sustainable techniques.
- Legal and Fiscal environment and Policies: It is important to properly enforce various policies that have been placed in place at both global and domestic levels.
- With the protection of conventional non-destructive uses and the implementation of novel management alternatives, local communities should obtain funding for the sustainable management of their peatlands.
- Building a market to finance the maintenance of peatlands: using financing instruments such as green bonds, private capital (equity and debt), government funding, etc.
- Institutional structure for collective action: It is important to develop integrated global partnerships.
- Limiting new agricultural and industrial practices that threaten their long-term sustainability and designing policies for long-term land use that encourage peatland conservation and protection.
- Capacity building: Focused action is needed for capacity building, outreach, and awareness raising with funding from developed countries.
- To better understand their size and status and to enable us to safeguard them, a thorough mapping of peatlands worldwide is important.
UPSC Previous Year Questions
In the context of mitigating the impending global warming due to anthropogenic emission of carbon dioxide, which of the following can be the potential sites for carbon sequestration?
- Abandoned and Uneconomic coal seams
- Depleted oil and gas reservoirs
- Subterranean deep saline formations
Select the correct answer using the code given below:
(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 1 and 3 only
(c) 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3
Article written by: Aseem Muhammed