Peatland Protection Equals Efficient Climate Protection

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Zurich-Reckenholz, 07.06.2018 - Is there a cost-efficient way to curb climate stress caused by land use? Globally, peatlands store twenty per cent of all the carbon lying untapped in the soil - despite the fact that they account for less than three per cent of the Earth’s land mass. New findings from Agroscope show that peatland protection is a highly efficient climate-protection measure. These

Even in Switzerland, the small area of organic soils still remaining (28,000 ha) stores as much carbon as all of the country’s mineral arable soils combined (approx. 270,000 ha). 

Peatland Protection or Change in Management

The ability of peatlands to serve as carbon sinks disappears quickly when they are used as farmland. Agroscope researchers estimate that worldwide, the agricultural use of organic soils leads to greenhouse gas emissions representing around 5% of all anthropogenic emissions.

By protecting all peatlands worldwide, more future greenhouse gas emissions could be avoided than would be possible via additional carbon storage on the rest of the Earth’s agricultural land area through improved management.

In order to convert mineral agricultural soils into "carbon sinks" worldwide, an annual input of 35-94 million tonnes of nitrogen would be required, since these soils only function as carbon sinks when they are also nitrogen sinks. This would have negative repercussions for the environment, e.g. causing higher levels of water pollution and affecting biodiversity.

Peatlands Protection - Small Area, Big Impact

By contrast, peatlands by nature require very little nitrogen to bind carbon. Nor does the rewilding of peatlands require any additional nitrogen input. Consequently, the protection of peatlands and their rehabilitation make sense, because this measure achieves a major impact with little effort, at little expense, and using only a small surface area. Agroscope experts thus conclude that protecting peatland is a highly efficient and sustainable way to lower the ecological footprint of agricultural land use.

Nature Communications Publication

Leifeld, J., Menichetti, L., 2018. The underappreciated potential of peatlands in global climate change mitigation strategies. Nature Communications, in press. DOI 10.1038/s41467-018-03406-6.