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New IPCC Special Report highlights importance of peatlands for climate change mitigation

Published by: Julie Van Offelen on August 15, 2019 Author:

One week ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) launched its new Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems.“ The IPCC Report highlights the vital role of peatlands and in the new report, has emphasized the importance of peatlands for carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation. This is an important step for the Global Peatlands Initiative, as one of their primary goals is dissemination of knowledge of the dangers and consequences of peatland degradation.

The report warns us,
61% of anthropogenic emissions during 2005 to 2015 were due to land use emissions. Indeed, land is a net source of methane (CH4), a powerful greenhouse gas, more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2). Tropical wetlands and peatlands are increasingly contributing to this rise of net CH4 emissions as the growing demand for agricultural land results in increased land clearing and peatland drainage and degradation. When degraded, peatlands release enormous amounts of CO2 and CH4 into the atmosphere. In fact, while covering only 0.4 percent of the world’s land, drained peatlands emit over five percent of global anthropogenic carbon emissions.

“Deforestation, peatland burning, and wood harvest directly contribute to around 13% of human-caused CO2 emissions” said Eduardo Calvo at the IPCC Press Conference.

The Report reminds us that the sustainable management of peatlands can be complex, and requires a multisectoral approach with collaboration by all actors involved including researchers, governments, institutions and local communities…

Land management practices relating to organic soils, peatlands and wetlands are subjected to specific biophysical conditions and some, like fire management and soil carbon management, cut across land use types. Food value chain and risk management are also context and region specific.

But the report also presents a way forward,
highlighting the fact that peatlands provide multiple services that will be difficult to replace. Indeed, peatlands support livelihoods and offer a large range of ecosystem services including water regulation and biodiversity conservation. The IPCC calls for a need to scale up responses and expand their scope to include soil carbon management and land degradation neutrality as a way to allow current and future emissions goals to be met. Preserving natural resources such as peatlands as both an adaptation and mitigation response will have positive impacts on sustainable development and other environmental and societal goals.

These recommendations by the IPCC are another example of the increasing international recognition of healthy peatlands as a triple-win for climate, people and the planet, acknowledging peatlands degradation as a critical issue to be addressed and their conservation, restoration and sustainable management as a way to efficiently fight climate change.

The Global Peatlands Initiative will present peatlands as a low-cost, low-tech and high impact nature-based solution for climate action at the Nature4Climate Hub (N4C) on September 23, 2019, in New York, alongside the Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit. More news to come!

Further readings:

The full IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land  (link)
UN Environment article “Nature can still heal itself, if we give it the urgent attention it needs”   (link)
National Geographic article “World food crisis looms if carbon emissions go unchecked, UN says” (link)

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