Peatland protection pays off - Massive conservation and restoration is needed

11. September 2023 | Lebensräume, Klimawandel, Naturschutz

With more than two billion tonnes of CO2, the draining of peatlands is responsible for about 4% of all human-made emissions globally. This is outlined in the Peatland Atlas 2023 - Facts and figures on wet climate guardians, published today by the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, the Michael Succow Stiftung (partners in the Greifswald Mire Centre) and BUND (Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland/Friends of the Earth Germany), with support of the Global Peatlands Initiative. For the climate crisis and the extinction of species, the ongoing destruction of peatlands acts like an accelerant.

The Peatland Atlas 2023 sheds light on the societal perception and history of peatlands, their importance for the global climate and as unique habitats for biodiversity and nature, and their destruction with local and global consequences. It also explains how we can protect peatlands and restore their functionality. It shows the potentials of wet peatlands for climate protection and opportunities for their wet use, called paludiculture, and how decision-makers and society can act now. It shows that:

  • More than 10 % of the 500 million hectares of peatlands worldwide are already drained, in parts of Central Europe well over 90 %
  • Every year, another 500,000 hectares of peatlands are destroyed, resulting in a ten times faster loss of their peat layers than their growth in intact peatlands.
  • The main drivers of global peatland destruction are agriculture and forestry, which, in addition to drainage for arable land, grassland, and forestry in Europe, are also responsible for deforestation and draining of peat swamp forests for palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia, for example.
  • This not only accelerates the extinction of species, but also fuels the climate crisis. Although peatlands cover only 3% of the world's land, they store about twice as much carbon as in the biomass of all the world's forests combined, which make up almost a third of the land area.

Dr. Imme Scholz, President of the Heinrich–Böll-Stiftung: "The worldwide drainage of peatlands causes significantly more CO2 emissions than global air traffic. In Europe, drained peatlands are responsible for about 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions, in agriculture and land use even for more than one third of all greenhouse gases. In terms of global emissions from drained peatlands, the EU is in one of the top three positions, with just under 12%, along with Russia (12%), and Indonesia with 34%. In Europe as industrial consumers, we are also responsible for the goods produced in other regions of the world on destroyed peatland forest areas, such as wood, pulp or palm oil," said Scholz. "In order to achieve the 1.5 degree target agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement, the EU must rewet 500,000 hectares per year; worldwide, two million hectares per year must be rewetted. In addition to existing agreements such as the Ramsar Convention and the UNEA4 resolution (4/16), we now need international regulations, policies and plans for the protection and restoration of peatlands as soon as possible, which put an end to uncontrolled overexploitation as well as legally binding provisions on the conservation, restoration and sustainable management of peatlands worldwide. The climate crisis has dramatically increased the pressure for action here." Scholz continued.

Antje von Broock, Managing Director Politics & Communication at BUND: "Peatlands are crucial for climate as well as biodiversity and water protection. Yet to this day we are draining them, causing rapid species extinction and greenhouse gas emissions that are fuelling the climate crisis. The EU is responsible for the third most greenhouse gas emission from peatlands worldwide and has to take a leading role in protecting, rewetting and restoring the peatlands. After disappointing developments for the EU Nature Restoration Law throughout this summer, we have to ensure that the peatland protection is reinstalled in the ongoing legislation process as an important part of the European Green Deal. It will be an effort for the farmers, but we have to rewet drained peatlands. The agricultural policy has to reward farmers for managing rewetted peatlands and we need an acceleration of planning and approval procedures for rewetting and nature conservation measures. We must find ways to ensure that the protection of peatlands, climate and species is permanent."

Dianna Kopansky, Coordinator of the Global Peatlands Initiative at UN Environment Programme: “Peatlands can be found in almost every place in the world, they can be mysterious homes and refuges to migrating, rare and unique biodiversity. As the climate, nature and pollution emergency confronts us, more and more, peatlands are coming into the spotlight. They deserve this attention as a super-powered nature based solution! Because tiny but mighty peatlands punch far above their weight in capturing and storing carbon and water – they keep us safe from drought and floods and many people around the world have deep cultural and spiritual connections to them. This Atlas is great contribution to raising awareness on the importance and urgency of peatlands conservation, restoration and sustainable management. Wherever you stand in the world, the Global Peatlands Initiative wants you to know that Peatlands Matter. Dive into this Peatlands Atlas, discover it, share it, discuss it, and find ways that you can make better choices and take action to help tackle the triple planetary crisis. We can do it, but only by working together.”

Jan Peters, Managing Director of the Michael Succow Foundation, partner in the Greifswald Mire Centre: "In the European Union, 50% of peatlands have been drained and degraded. In order to achieve overarching environmental and climate goals and fulfil the commitment of the EU Green Deal, the EU must rewet at least 500,000 hectares per year. We urgently need to accelerate the speed and scale of peatland restoration efforts throughout the continent. More effective governance of peatlands in coherent policies is key to deliver a triple win for the climate, people and the planet. Besides legally binding targets for peatland restoration set in a decisive, concrete and transparent manner, i.a. in the EU Nature Restoration Law, attractive financial support for alternative, wetter uses such as paludiculture that combines agricultural or forestry use with climate and biodiversity protection is necessary for the transformation of peatland management. The transition will be successful only with stakeholders like farmers or water managers on board, who see the future prospects of such measures with certainty and long-term support. Rethinking on how to deal with peatlands must take place in society as a whole - and the economy should also recognise the potential. Climate services from paludiculture and innovative products of "paludi-biomass" must be recognised and attractively financially supported. In addition, we should support the international community with all our means to join us on this pathway, involving local communities, indigenous peoples, agriculture and forestry in regional and local contexts. We need to act now – Protecting global peatlands locally!”

Further information

The Peatland Atlas 2023 is available for download at

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