Peatlands are significant to global efforts to combat climate change and achieve other Sustainable Development Goals. Their protection and restoration are vital in the transition to a zero-carbon society.
Emissions from drained peatlands are estimated at 1.9 gigatonnes of CO2e annually. This is equivalent to 5% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, a disproportionate amount considering damaged peatlands cover just 0.3% of landmass. Fires in Indonesian peat swamp forests in 2015, for example, emitted nearly 16 million tonnes of CO2 a day; which is more than the entire economy of the United States.
Worldwide, the remaining area of near natural peatland (over 3 million km2) sequesters 0.37 gigatonnes of CO2 a year. Peat soils contain more than 600 gigatonnes of carbon which represents up to 44% of all soil carbon, and exceeds the carbon stored in all other vegetation types including the world’s forests.
In their natural, wet state, peatlands provide indispensable Nature-based Solutions for adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change, including regulating water flows, minimising the risk of flooding and drought, and preventing seawater intrusion. Wet peatlands lower ambient temperatures in surrounding areas, providing refuge from extreme heat, and are less likely to burn during wildfires. This helps to preserve air quality.
Draining peatlands reduces the quality of drinking water as water becomes polluted with organic carbon and pollutants historically absorbed within peat.
In many parts of the world, peatlands supply food, fibre and other local products that sustain economies. They also preserve important ecological and archaeological information such as pollen records and human artefacts.
Damage to peatlands causes biodiversity loss. For example, the decline of the Bornean orang-utan population by 60% within 60 years is largely attributed to the loss of peat swamp habitat. The species is now listed as Critically Endangered on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.