Peatlands restoration is ranked #13 on Drawdown’s list of climate solutions. It can avoid 21.57 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. While data are too variable to permit a global accounting of costs, those hundreds of millions of acres of protected lands will permanently secure 1,200 gigatons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.
Peatlands are the second-most important carbon storehouse on Earth, after the oceans. Their storage capacity is so high because they are “neither solid ground, nor water, but something in between.” A peat bog consists of a living blanket of plants beneath which floats a primordial ooze of dead and decomposing organic matter. Because it’s held in water, in anaerobic conditions, it decays very slowly, rather than oxidizing and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
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The critical thing for peatlands, therefore, is to keep them wet, and Drawdown says 85% of the world’s boggy areas are healthily waterlogged. But 15% have been drained to make way for palm oil plantations, harvested for sale as a horticultural commodity, or destroyed in ever-more frequent forest fires. When that happens, a bog that has taken millennia to establish itself as a carbon storehouse is exposed to air and becomes a “carbon chimney” in a few short years.
“Drained peatlands make up 0.3% of the world’s land area,” Drawdown notes, “yet they produce 5% of all carbon dioxide emissions caused by human beings.”
Fortunately, the world is beginning to secure the world’s boglands. “From Sweden to Sumatra, a variety of national and cross-border initiatives have cropped up to protect and restore peatlands,” Drawdown reports. Literally “rewetting” the damaged ecosystem is the essential first step, followed by efforts to regrow the marsh itself through the “artful creation of vegetation decay that can renew peat layers over time, and [in places like Indonesia] can accommodate certain crops like oranges and tea trees.”
Other key elements will include public awareness campaigns about these ancient, often traditionally sacred, ecosystems that, while fundamentally dependent on death and decay, in turn sustain so much life: “purifying water, protecting against floods, supporting biodiversity from foxes to orangutans”, and keeping carbon out of the atmosphere.