Muskeg/Peatlands and Climate Change

Written by  //  October 17, 2007  //  Climate Change, Environment & Energy, Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

From: Jaime Webbe
…from the SBSTTA 12 document on biodiversity and climate change.

1. The global Assessment on Peatlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change confirms that peatlands are critical for biodiversity conservation, support specialised species and unique ecosystems, and increasingly provide refuge for threatened species that are expelled from intensively used and overexploited areas.
Peatlands are recognized as the most efficient terrestrial ecosystem in storing carbon. While covering only 3% of the world’s land area, their peat contains as much carbon as all terrestrial biomass, and twice as much as all forest biomass. Degradation of peatlands is a major and growing source of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change impacts are already visible through the melting of permafrost peatlands and desertification of steppe peatlands and associated climate-induced emissions. Conservation, restoration and wise use of peatlands are essential and very cost effective measures for long term climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as biodiversity conservation.

Peatlands and Biodiversity

2. Peatlands are unique and complex ecosystems of global importance for biodiversity conservation at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels. Although species diversity may be lower, the proportion of unique or characteristic species is high in peatlands. Specialised peatland species are vulnerable to anthropogenic and climate-induced changes, as they often cannot survive in other habitats. Peatlands may support biodiversity beyond their borders by maintaining hydrology and microclimate of adjacent areas and by providing habitats for migrant and nomadic species.

Peatlands and Climate Regulation

3. Peatlands contain at least 550 Gt of carbon, which is equivalent to 30% of the carbon in soils, 75% of that in the atmosphere, and is equal to all terrestrial biomass. Peatlands are the most efficient carbon stores of all terrestrial ecosystems. In the sub-polar zone, they contain 3.5 times, in the boreal zone 7 times, and in the tropical zone 10 times more carbon per ha than ecosystems on mineral soil. Peatlands are the top long-term carbon store in the terrestrial biosphere and have, since the last ice age, played an important role in global greenhouse gas balances by sequestering an enormous amount of atmospheric CO2. Anthropogenic disturbances (especially drainage and fires) have led to massive increases in net emissions of greenhouse gases from peatlands, which are now comparable to global industrial emissions.

Impact of climate change on peatlands

4. Climate is the most important determinant of the distribution and character of peatlands. Natural peatlands showed resilience to the changes in climate that have occurred in the past. However, the rate and magnitude of predicted future climate changes and extreme events may push many peatlands over their threshold for adaptation. Human activities such as vegetation clearance, drainage, and overgrazing increase the vulnerability of peatlands to climate change.

5. Impacts on peatlands will be regionally differentiated – such as melting of permafrost, inundation and salinisation in coastal zones or desiccation in mountain and steppe regions. The most vulnerable peatland types (tropical peat swamp forests, permafrost, steppe, mountain and coastal peatlands) require urgent adaptation measures

Integrated management and avoidance of conflicts with climate mitigation measures

6. Integrated management of peatlands incorporates a range of approaches on different land use areas. Integrated management requires close coordination between different stakeholders and economic sectors and also the integration of approaches for biodiversity, climate change and land degradation.

7. Measures for climate change mitigation may sometimes conflict with biodiversity and land degradation objectives. Climate mitigation measures such as hydropower, wind energy or biofuel production should generally not be implemented on peatlands to avoid negative impacts on biodiversity, carbon storage and greenhouse gas flux. Millions of hectares of tropical peatlands, especially in South-East Asia, are currently being converted to palm oil production, which is partly driven by the global demand for renewable biofuels. However, palm oil and other biofuels grown on drained peatlands have a life cycle greenhouse gas emission of three to five times more than petroleum oil fuels.

Inclusion of peatlands in the deliberations of the Conference of the Parties and areas for future action

8. Peatlands are mainly addressed within the framework of the Convention through the inland waters biodiversity programme of work. Peatlands are, however, absent from the programmes of work on mountain, forest and dry and sub-humid lands biodiversity and cross-cutting issues.

9. Key considerations for future action include:

· Strict protection of intact peatlands is critical for the conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecosystem functions including carbon store/sequestration.

· Changes in peatland management (such as better water and fire control in drained peatlands) improve land use sustainability and reduce impacts on biodiversity and climate.

· Restoration of peatlands can be a cost-effective way to generate immediate benefits for biodiversity and climate change mitigation by reducing peat oxidation and fires.

· Developing new production techniques such as wet agriculture, could generate production benefits from peatlands without causing negative impacts to their environmental functions.

· Enhancing awareness and capacity, addressing poverty and inequity, and removing perverse incentives are important to address root causes of peatland degradation

One Comment on "Muskeg/Peatlands and Climate Change"

  1. detoxdietguy October 2, 2009 at 7:04 am ·

    recently, there has been some massive flooding in the Philippines and Vietnam which i think is also due to Climate Change. the tropical storms in asia are somewhat getting stronger stronger each year.

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