5 Reasons Why Peatlands Need to be on the COP26 Agenda
The UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on 1 – 12 November 2021.
COP26 will take place in Glasgow at the start of November, 2021. This is a huge opportunity to talk about what Scotland and the UK as a whole is doing well in terms of tackling climate change, and to put pressure on the big industries and government on the areas that they need to do better in.
We think peatlands need to be talked about during COP26 – both to make huge strides in further protecting our peatlands, but also to showcase the amazing work restoring peatland that has been done. As always, we’re passionate about talking optimistically and celebrating successes as well as pushing to do more.
Let’s have a look at the 5 main reasons why we think peatland must be on the COP26 agenda.
1. Peatlands are a carbon sink when healthy
Peatlands are the biggest terrestrial store of carbon in the world (IUCN).
Carbon sequestration (or removing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere) is important when talking about climate change – the less carbon in our atmosphere, the better (carbon is often in the form of carbon dioxide and methane in our atmosphere), as these are the main drivers of climate change. Over thousands of years peatlands have sequestered carbon which is now locked away and stored in the form of peat. Peatlands in poor condition are at risk of releasing this carbon back into the atmosphere.
You may have heard about the huge push for native tree planting as a way to offset carbon emissions, or to meet our net zero carbon targets. Peatlands can do this too – but only when healthy.
2. The majority of peatlands in the UK are degraded
Unfortunately, over 80% of peatlands in the UK are damaged to some extent (learn more about the state of the UK’s peatlands here). Damaged peatlands can release carbon and act as a carbon source:
[Damaged peatlands] annually release almost 6% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions – IUCN
But this can be halted and even reversed through peatland restoration, which is great news. Additionally, a healthy peatland has so many other ecosystem benefits that help to protect against climate change. Read on to find out more…
3. Healthy peatlands are home to many unique species
Peatlands are a unique habitat. They are low in nutrients, waterlogged and acidic. The plants and animals that do live here have adapted to this challenging environment, such as the sundew, which evolved to attract and eat insects (much like the Venus fly trap!) to make up for the lack of ‘food’ in the soil.
A healthy peatland provides for nature and for us; from the tiny insects that thrive in these challenging environments to the breath taking landscapes that define many parts of our country.
While ‘natural capital’ can be viewed as a nebulous term, peatlands nevertheless have a high natural capital value that we cannot afford to lose.
4. A healthy peatland is a resilient peatland.
To add on to our last point, a healthy ecosystem is also a resilient ecosystem. Climate change will affect our ecosystems hugely, from the weather conditions to the timings of important life cycle events (such as insects emerging from their larval form, providing a food source at a specific time of year to other animals). But the healthier an ecosystem is, the more able it is to adapt to climate change. We need to exert fewer pressures on the ecosystems from other areas.
A degraded peatland will have a knock on effect on the surrounding ecosystems and its flora and fauna. For example, peat can be washed away downstream into our rivers releasing carbon and impacting aquatic life.
5. Peatlands play an important role in water quality and regulation
On that note, a healthy peatland can help improve water quality, thus allowing our waterways to be more resilient to other changes.
There’s another important way in which peatlands interact with water. An unhealthy peatland does not hold water well; it drains through much faster than in a healthy peatland, which means there is a greater volume of water running off and draining into our rivers, over a shorter period of time. In times of storms or heavy rainfall, our already high rivers will receive this huge volume of water and further increases the risk of flooding downstream – damaging buildings, infrastructure, livelihoods and even risking lives. With the threat of more frequent, high intensity rain fall events with climate change, peatland in good condition will help us all deal with these problems.
Have a look at our recent blog to find out more about how CCC is working with our rivers.
All of these reasons are why we need our healthy peatlands to stay healthy, and our degraded peatlands to be restored. We need peatlands to be talked about at COP26 – not just to push for peatlands to be higher in the UK’s priority, but also to highlight peatlands throughout the world.
And if peatlands get spoken about at COP26, what then?
We would hope that further funding is available for peatland restoration worldwide; that governments see healthy peatlands as a way to combat climate change; and that changes are made within policy and ways of working which protects peatlands from development or extraction.
We want all those who live and work on peatlands to be supported to bring these incredible ecosystems back into good ecological condition.
Bring on COP26!