Scientists urge countries to protect their peatlands

Research on the world’s largest peatlands urges countries to protect these vulnerable wetland ecosystems as part of their climate strategies, and to learn from each other’s experiences to sustainably manage them.

Tropical peatlands – one of the main carbon sinks in the planet – are under threat from activities such as agriculture, infrastructures and mining.

A special issue of the Springer journal ‘Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change’ presents nine papers from Indonesia, the Congo basin and the Peruvian Amazon, offering new insights to help policy-makers balance development, climate and conservation goals.

“Tropical peatlands under siege: the need for evidence-based policies and strategies” has been led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in collaboration with the US Forest Service and with USAID’s support.

“Peatlands present us with a golden opportunity to confront climate change, but we need policy-makers and scientists to work hand-in-hand in the creation of sound strategies,” says Centre for International Forestry Research principal scientist, Daniel Murdiyarso, on behalf of the other Guest Editors Erik Lilleskov and Randy Kolka of the US Forest Service.

“It is also vital that countries exchange knowledge to avoid tripping over the same stone twice when it comes to peatland conservation and management.” 

Tropical peatlands in Southeast Asia continue to be converted at an alarming rate – particularly in Indonesia, where peatland development for oil palm and pulpwood surged in the 80’s.  Peatlands in the Amazon and Congo Basin are much less degraded but they might follow the same unsustainable pathway if they do not take action, warn researchers.

The document explores how lessons learned from Indonesia can inform policies to protect relatively intact peatlands in Peru and the Republic of Congo, noting that in these three regions alone peat swamp forests cover a total of 50 million hectares and store up to 3,000 tons of carbon per hectare. Scientists emphasise the need for strong policies that protect peatlands from hydrocarbon mining and infrastructure development, and call on countries to exchange practical knowledge before it is too late.

The research has other policy implications. For example, the papers identify drivers of conversion and can be used to refine emission factors –essential to quantifying greenhouse gas emissions from the degradation of peatlands.

“The data reported in this special issue enriches existing information, including the emission factors in the Wetland Supplement of the IPCC guidelines,” the document notes.

Studies also unravel peatland hydrology –vital to restoring drained ecosystems— and look into better ways of modeling and remotely monitoring water regimens. All this knowledge could be harnessed by national bodies such as the Indonesian Peatland Restoration Agency, tasked with restoring more than two million hectares of degraded peat swamp forests by 2020.

The importance of a deeper understanding of peatland characteristics is emphasised for countries to deliver on both national priorities and global climate goals.

Policies that recognise peatlands as a unique but vulnerable ecosystem type at the national level, alongside appropriate evaluations of their ability to store carbon over long periods of time, could lift their chances of remaining carbon sinks rather than becoming major sources of greenhouse gases, the authors of the synthesis of the nine papers conclude.

Source:  The Center for International Forestry Research 

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