Peat’s Potential to Forestall Climate Change
Although peatlands are often disregarded as anaerobic wastelands, Christian Dunn, a wetlands scientist at Bangor University, in Wales, claims, “Peat is the superhero of the natural world.” Whether they are called moors, bogs, fens, mires, swamps or sloughs, the acidic, low-nutrient ecosystems are the most carbon-dense lands on the planet and can safely store twice as much carbon as all forests combined in one-tenth the landmass for 1,000 years. Climate scientists know the role oceans and forests play in storing carbon and are now coming to appreciate the power of peat and the need to preserve existing bogs and to restore those that have been damaged. On the flip side, carbon already locked up can be quickly released, hastening a warming climate. Because peatlands store an estimated 30 percent of sequestered carbon in 3 percent of the world’s land mass, climatologists call its potential discharge a “carbon bomb”.
Human agricultural practices are at the heart of the problem, as about 15 percent of peat has already been lost worldwide. Farmers have been paid to convert peatlands with government tax breaks and cash subsidies. Indonesia, one of the world’s top five greenhouse gas emitters, is clearing peat for palm oil plantations, with farmers burning soil that can smolder for months. Britain, one of the first countries to focus on peat in in a strategy to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, has pledged more than $1 billion by 2025 on peat restoration, woodland creation and management.