Protecting peatlands for people and planet

UN Environment’s work on the conservation and restoration of peatlands is motivated by their nature as highly efficient and compact carbon sinks. While peatlands cover only three per cent of the global land surface, they store nearly 550 billion tonnes of carbon – as much carbon as is contained in all terrestrial biomass and twice as much as in all the world’s forests. Considering this, peatlands are one of the greatest allies and potentially one of the quickest wins in the fight against climate change. By conserving and restoring peatlands globally, we can reduce emissions and revive an essential natural carbon sink.

But the world's peatlands are under increased threat from drainage for agriculture, forestry, resource extraction and infrastructure development. The negative implication of the destruction are massive: current greenhouse gas emissions from drained or burning peatlands are estimated to amount to up to five percent of all emissions caused by human activity – in the range of two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

Urgent action must be taken to keep the carbon locked in peatlands where it is – wet, and in the ground. Drained peatlands must also be rewetted to halt the ongoing significant emissions.

However, knowing where peatlands are has been a challenge for scientists. Recognizing this combined with their importance, in December 2016, UN Environment launched the Global Peatlands Initiative. It is an international partnership of 22 government and organizations formed to collectively save peatlands as the world’s largest terrestrial organic carbon stock coordinated by UN Environment and supported by the German International Climate Initiative.