Peatlands restoration – peatlands as a super Nature Based Solution
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Peatlands restoration – peatlands as a super Nature Based Solution

Peatlands restoration – peatlands as a super Nature Based Solution

Why do we need to restore peatlands?

More than 160 countries in the world have peatlands. Covering around 3% of the global land surface, they are estimatied to store around 30% of the world’s soil carbon and contain twice as much carbon as the world’s forests (Smoke On Water, 2017). Despite their obvious and central position in climate change mitigation and adaptation, 15% of the world’s peatlands have been drained (less than 0.4% of the global land surface) yet, they are responsible for 1.3 gigatons of CO2 emissions annually, equivalent to 5.6% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions (IUCN Peatlands and climate change brief, 2017).

Not only are peatlands the largest natural terrestrial carbon store, they also act as significant carbon sinks which, through protection can potentially contribute to countries’ NDCs and adherence to the Paris Agreement. Peatlands  also host rare and unique biodiversity, regulate water supply and quality, cool our atmosphere, prevent floods and droughts, producing biomass and food for people, and thus sustaining local economies. Further, a recent review paper, led by the University of Exeter, highlighted the importance of protecting tropical peatlands as a simple way to reduce the risk of emergence of potential future Zoonotic diseases. Thus, the economic case for restoration may often go beyond mitigation of emissions to include the value of these other benefits.

For all these reasons there is an urgent need to protect, restore and sustainably manage these crucial ecosystems. Intact peatlands need to be protected to keep the carbon locked where it belongs, wet, and in the ground while, at the same time, previously degraded peatlands need to be restored in order to halt the process of carbon being released into our atmosphere (Smoke on water, 2017).

But how much does it cost? Is it “worth it” to restore peatlands in terms of economics? How do we put a value on such a diverse set of ecosystems?

The Global Peatlands Initiative, an initiative led by UN Environment Programme, is currently investigating financial solutions and instruments to prioritize peatlands conservation, restoration, and sustainable management. The goal is  to advocate for financing mechanisms that are complementary and synergistic, rather than overlapping.

Though being an emerging area of work, there is growing recognition that peatlands restoration is economically beneficial and an efficient way of providing nature-based solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss.

The case of Scotland’s peatlands

In Scotland, no one is more than five miles from a peatland (source: Scotland’s Nature Agency). Earlier this year, the Scottish government announced a package of funding to accelerate Scotland’s transition to a net-zero economy. The basket of funds is part of the Scottish Governments commitment to NBS to the climate crisis and includes £1.8 billion of investment in low carbon infrastructure in which it provides £20 million for peatland restoration and a commitment to invest £250 million over the next ten years.

This commitment has been described as “an absolute game changer for CO2 emissions reductions, biodiversity and the rural economy” by Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. Considering up to 25 percent of the land cover in Scotland is covered by peatlands, this announcement and the restoration action to come, will likely place Scotland in a position as a “peatlands restoration champion”.

Furthermore,  in July 2020, the University of Leeds and Scottish Natural Heritage  published an article on “The cost of peatland restoration in Scotland”  which highlighted information on the cost of peatland restoration is currently patchy and fragmented, and often based on limited data. Through their research, they concluded that peatland restoration costs vary greatly depending on the restoration activities implemented, as well as on the initial peatland condition. In Scotland, the median costs for peatland restoration were £955 per hectare.

“This new publication appears in the context of Scottish Government’s long-term investment in peatland restoration.  Since 2012, over 25,000 hectares of peatland have been restored with public funds, which is among the greatest extent of restoration anywhere in the world.  Looking ahead, the Scottish Government has set its sights and ambitions much higher. Its Climate Change Plan has established an annual target of at least 20,000 ha over the next ten years towards a total of 250,000 ha by 2030, underpinned by an investment of more than £250 million over the same period as announced in February 2020. The database of peatland management projects and costs that Scottish researchers have assembled here, from the public investment in support mechanisms such as Peatland Action and the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme, provides a reference resource to analyse and understand the economics of peatland restoration.” – Andrew Millar, Chief Scientific Adviser Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture for the Scottish Government. “This research will help to inform future policy and management decisions, maximising the value of peatland restoration in addressing the global climate emergency and flood risk, protecting land and water quality, and increasing biodiversity in Scotland and other temperate peatland nations.  UNEP GPI is right to call Peatlands a “Nature-Based Super solution” he adds.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

Current expenditures on restoration are relatively low. In fact, though the UN predicts that NBS could deliver more than 1/3 of the emissions reductions needed worldwide by 2030, all NBS combined get less than 3% of available climate funding (Source).

Aiming at raising awareness of the importance of successful ecosystem restoration, on March 1, 2019,  the United Nations General Assembly, through it Resolution A/RES/73/284, proclaimed 2021 – 2030 the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The resolution calls for supporting and scaling up efforts to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration aims to:

  • foster a restoration culture and scale it up across the planet by establishing a global movement
  • showcase successful initiatives to stop degradation, restore ecosystem to enhance knowledge exchange to increase efficiency and impact
  • build a solid portfolio of sustainable production and impact investment

“Through collaboration, partnerships and awareness raising, we must all work together to enable countries to identify Peatlands as a priority ecosystem for action in the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration “ concludes Dianna Kopansky, UNEP’s Global Peatlands Coordinator. Adding that “The Global Peatlands Initiative is and will continue advocating for peatlands, as a priority ecosystem to look at for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Peatlands restoration actions and priorities are different in the global north and in the global south. In the latter, most peatlands are pristine, and we should thus incentivize activities like eco-tourism or paludiculture, that by definition,  keep peat in the ground and facilitate economic development that’s sustainable and facilitates both biodiversity and improved livelihoods.”

For more information, please contact Dianna Kopansky Dianna.kopansky@un.org

Picture: (C) Emma Goodyer

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