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

Canals in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan Province, Indonesia, are hedged by dams to retain water for the regeneration of peat fields. UN Photo/Mark Garten

17 November 2016 – A new global initiative was launched today at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 22) under way in Marrakech, aims to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and save thousands of live by protecting peatlands – the largest terrestrial organic soil carbon stock.

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

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.

Mr. Solheim also urged taking action through the Global Peatlands Initiative, as 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.”

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 enormous fires in Indonesia and Russia in recent years. In recent years, Indonesia has suffered from peat forest fires, resulting in greater emissions than the daily ones from the entire United States economy.

However, emission is 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 $16.1 billion in economic damage, according to recent studies.

Therefore, 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.


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