“From a climate perspective, [peatlands] are the most essential terrestrial ecosystem.” Tim Christophersen, Senior Program Officer, Forests and Climate, United Nations Environment Programme
The accumulation and long-term storage of carbon as peat soil sets peatlands apart from other ecosystems: it means that they can play a key role in climate regulation. Much of the UK’s peatland, however, is no longer sequestering and storing carbon as a result of decades of unsuitable land management practices. Instead damaged peatlands have become a significant net source of greenhouse gases and represent a risk to global climate, emitting over 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) each year - around 4% of the UK’s total annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (Evans et. al, 20171). Preventing further damage and restoring healthy ecosystem function can therefore play an important role in climate regulation within the UK.
Peatland function can be repaired through restoration, which aims to return wetland conditions by restoring hydrology: such rewetting is recognised under international climate change agreements as one of the permitted activities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. General values for peatland emissions under different land uses have been agreed by the International Panel on Climate Change enabling countries to include emissions from damaged peatlands and savings from restored areas within national greenhouse gas accounting (IPCC, 20062).
1 Evans, C., Artz, R., Moxley, J., Smyth, M-A., Taylor, E., Archer, N., Burden, A., Williamson, J., Donnelly, D., Thomson, A., Buys, G., Malcolm, H., Wilson, D., Renou-Wilson, F. (2017). Implementation of an emission inventory for UK peatlands. Report to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Bangor.88pp.
2 IPCC (2006). Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use. In IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (Vol.4).
Ten million tonnes of carbon dioxide are lost to the atmosphere from the UK’s damaged peatlands each year. There are also concerns about emissions of highly potent greenhouse gas methane from rewetted peatlands. However, evidence suggests that it is possible to halt the loss of carbon from peatland through habitat restoration, and that methane emissions are likely to be small in relation to the overall greenhouse gas benefits from restoring peatlands.
The Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Potential review is built upon evidence from a Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) report (in prep) 'Design for a research programme to address evidence gaps in greenhouse gas and carbon flux from UK peatlands'.
- Download the scientific review Peatlands and Climate Change
Please note, the views expressed in this review are those of the authors. The IUCN UK Peatland Programme is not responsible for the content of this review and does not necessarily endorse the views contained within.
This Review, undertaken as part of the Commission of Inquiry in 2011, was led by Dr Fred Worrall of Durham University.