BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 29 November '16

New UN initiative to save lives and cut climate change by protecting peatlands

A new global initiative has been launched in a bid to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and save thousands of lives by protecting peatlands – the largest terrestrial organic soil carbon stock.

According to the UN environment Programme (UNEP), the Global Peatlands Initiative seeks to mobilise governments, international organisations and academia in an effort to protect peatlands, which contain almost 100 times more carbon than tropical forests.

Sinks to sources

If global temperatures continue to rise, this could lead to thawing permafrost, switching boreal and Arctic peatlands from carbon sinks to sources, resulting in huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and potentially causing climate change to spiral out of control.

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment stressed that despite the Paris Agreement, global temperatures will rise over 3 degrees Celsius this century. ‘This will cause misery and chaos for millions of vulnerable people, so we cannot afford to let any opportunity to reduce emissions slip by’, he added.

‘[It is] critical we do not reach the tipping point that will see peatlands stop sinking carbon and start spewing it into the atmosphere, destroying any hope we have of controlling climate change.’

ERIK SOLHEIM
Head of UN Environment

Threats and impacts

UNEP said that peatlands are coming under increased threat from conversion for palm oil and pulp wood production, which may result in environmental problems such as the enormous fires in Indonesia and Russia in recent years.

Indonesia has suffered from peat forest fires that exceeded the daily emissions from the entire United States economy.

However, emissions are not the only negative impact of peatland degradation. The 2015 peat fires in Indonesia may have indirectly killed up to 100,000 people through the toxic haze, in addition to causing $16.1bn in economic damage, according to recent studies.

Global Peatlands Initiative

With support from over a dozen partners, a UN Environment team launched the largest effort on peat so far, called the Global Peatlands Initiative, which aims to increase the conservation, restoration and sustainable management of peatlands in countries with significant peat deposits.

The initiative was launched at the Global Landscapes Forum, the leading side event of the UN’s COP22 climate change talks in Marrakech, Morocco.

The Global Peatlands Initiative was founded by the governments of Indonesia, Peru, the Republic of Congo, UNEP, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, CIFOR, Wetlands International, UNEP-WCMC, GRID-Arendal, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, European Space Agency, WRI, Greifswald Mire Centre and StarVision/Sateligence.

Click here for more on UNEP’s Integrated Peatlands Management project.