Better managed peatlands ‘could slash half a billion tonnes of CO2’

A new study suggests human activity is becoming an obstacle to harnessing the full potential of peatlands in carbon sequestration

The Big Zero report

More sensible management of peatlands could bring great carbon savings.

That’s according to research, partly undertaken by the University of Leicester, which estimates half a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions could be cut by improving the way we manage peatlands.

Peatland is a natural area of wetland, where decayed vegetation is stopped from fully breaking down.

They occupy just 3% of the global land surface, but they store approximately 650 billion tonnes of carbon, which is around 100 billion tonnes more than all of the world’s vegetation combined, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology scientists suggest.

The study, which was published in the journal Nature, found that many peatlands are ‘substantially’ modified by human activity, including drainage for agriculture and forest plantations.

That leads to the release of around 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every
year, according to the study.

This amount is equivalent to 3% of all global greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities.

Professor Sue Page from the University of Leicester’s School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, said: Our results present a challenge but also a great opportunity.

“Better water management in peatlands offers a potential ‘win-win – lower greenhouse gas emissions, improved soil health, extended agricultural lifetimes and reduced flood risk.”

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