Countries preserving the world’s largest terrestrial organic carbon stock with the support of peatland mapping and monitoring
While peatlands cover only 3 per cent of global land area, they store nearly 30 per cent of the world’s soil organic carbon and contain twice as much carbon as the world’s forests. Despite their importance and the extent of the threats they face, peatlands are one of the least understood and least-monitored ecosystems. Disproportionate to the land surface they cover, greenhouse gas emissions from drained or degraded peatlands (due to agriculture, forestry and other types of land use) accounted for 5 percent of the global carbon budget by 2014, emitting 2 billion tonnes of CO2-eq per year. These greenhouse gas emissions rise significantly, even doubling to 10 percent during years when peatlands in different regions burn for longer periods.
Keeping peat carbon in the ground is crucial if the world is to meet the 2-degree threshold set by the Paris Climate Change Agreement. To achieve this, every country and its citizens need to undertake “business unusual” so that global carbon emissions reach net zero by 2050 – a date just around the corner.
How can we do that?
To do this, the Global Peatlands Initiative has been working together with its partners to establish standards and definitions, to help map and monitor peatland ecosystems worldwide. Indeed, knowing where peatlands are and how they are changing is the first step to enable effective action and support decision-makers around the world to work toward peatlands protection, restoration and sustainable management.
In March this year (2020), the Global Peatlands Initiative and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN launched the “Peatland mapping and monitoring – Recommendations and a technical overview”, a technical report co-written by more than 35 renown experts from 14 countries. The report gives an overview on the reasons, methods and approaches for monitoring these complex ecosystems. It also summarizes recommendations on how to advance with and improve peatland mapping and monitoring based on investment, institutional setting and coordination, and science-based approach. The publication shares recent advances and lessons learned from various peatland countries, including three partner countries of the GPI: Indonesia, Peru and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This report emphasizes the recent advances by the GPI on peatland mapping and monitoring.
In 2017, the Cuvette Centrale peatlands were uncovered, and are now estimated to be the largest continuous tropical peat complex in the world. Covering an area of around 145,000 square kilometres and containing about 30 gigatonnes of carbon, this discovery (Dargie et al., 2017) highlighted huge knowledge gaps on peatland mapping and inspired action around the world.
A few months later, the Smoke on Water Rapid Response Assessment was published with contributions from GPI partners in an effort to kick start a global collaborative effort to establish the State of the World’s peatlands including the following plea for action.
Comprehensive peatland mapping and monitoring worldwide is essential to better understanding their extent and status, and to enable us to safeguard them. Decision makers, academia, practitioners, and institutions, as well as the public play an important role in peatland protection, improving their management and monitoring. Therefore, it is crucial to provide improved maps and tools for assessment and transparent use of the information to underpin action and multi-stakeholder engagement. Combined recommendations both from the Smoke on Water and the Peatlands mapping and monitoring reports include:
- Advancing peatland mapping to better understand the state and extent of global peatlands. This information is necessary to better inform peatland management for maintaining ecosystem services, allowing climate change mitigation and reporting, land use planning and to informing peatland monitoring systems.
- Improving understanding of the contribution of peatlands to greenhouse gas fluxes – sequestration and emissions – and to update emission factors.
- Better understanding of the costs and benefits of peatland restoration or conservation scenarios and the opportunity costs of a ‘do nothing’ or ‘business as usual’ approach from an ecosystem services perspective.
- Monitoring the state of peatlands, and integrating peatlands in national forest and other land use monitoring systems;
- Invest in research into and trials of appropriate restoration techniques suited to different types and locations, with knowledge exchange playing an important part.
- Improving national multi-stakeholder coordination and clarifying institutional mandates to allow, for example, efficient data sharing for peatland mapping, monitoring and reporting.
- Consistent methodologies in peatland research, and standardized definitions to enable better evaluation and comparison of published studies.
Since 2016, the Global Peatlands Initiative and its partners have been raising awareness, working on mapping and monitoring with partners and highlighting this work at several events including:
- the National Symposium on sustainable management of Peruvian peatlands, organized by The Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP) partners CIFOR, US Forest Service and others, in Lima, Peru on April 2019 and focusing on different aspects of the ecology, monitoring and sustainable management of coastal and Andean Peruvian peatlands;
- In May 2019, FAO held a “Peatland monitoring workshop” in Italy, with leading actors in the field of peatland monitoring. Participants, both international and national experts from GPI member countries’ national agencies working on monitoring systems decided together to join forces and publish the report mentioned. The participants reviewed state-of-the-art approaches to peatland monitoring and shared tools, approaches and challenges in assessing the status and change of peatlands.
- At the Global Landscapes Forum in Accra, Ghana on October 2019 where the Global Peatlands Initiative hosted an interactive session on “Peatlands Restoration, Conservation and Sustainable Management as an Effective Solution to Climate Change Challenges in Africa with a Focus on the Nile Basin”. The session shared ongoing work and collaboration on peatlands mapping, monitoring and restoration highlighting the importance of the Nile Basin.
- More recently, at the UNFCCC COP25 in 2019 in Madrid, UNEP coordinated, together with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Greifswald Mire Centre (GMC), Global Environment Centre (GEC) and FAO a side event on “Avoiding loss of high-carbon soils through peatland mapping, monitoring and adequate management for climate action“(Video recording available here). The side event highlighted the urgency for countries who need to know where peatlands are located for land use planning, conservation and restoration action.
In late 2020, as requested by the UNEA4 Resolution on Conservation and Sustainable Management of Peatlands, the Global Peatlands Initiative will kick off its Global Peatlands Assessment, aiming to assess and communicate the status and value of peatlands and the practical opportunities to restore and protect them. The assessment will incorporate Best Practices, Hotspots Atlases, and more to establish and illustrate the best available data on peatland state, trends and pressures. It will emphasize and encourage positive action and showcase successful and promising approaches to peatland conservation, restoration and sustainable management that co-exist with prosperous and healthy lives.
- Webinar launch of “Peatland mapping and monitoring” report and the peatland monitoring platform: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzp5NgJ2-dK6-oTRJrJvIgZbbZ0vIehyN
- Peatland article in the Unasylva journal “Forests: nature-based solutions for water” here: http://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/ca6842en
Dargie, G., Lewis, S., Lawson, I., Mitchard, E., Page, S., Bocko, Y., Suspense, I. (2017). Age, extent and carbon storage of the central Congo Basin peatland complex. Nature. 542. 10.1038/nature21048.