Avoided peatland impacts
Peatlands are defined by soils that are continuously or seasonally saturated with water. The waterlogged soils prevent the breakdown of leaves, wood, roots and other organic material in the soil, allowing carbon to stay trapped underground. In some regions, peat soils are many meters thick and thousands of years old.
When peatlands are damaged, their stored carbon is lost to the atmosphere. Peatlands may be drained and converted to agricultural land or palm plantations. Often the drained peatlands are burned, further amplifying their carbon emissions. Preventing peatland damage will help to keep large amounts of carbon sequestered in the soil.
Worldwide, 760,000 hectares of peatlands are lost each year, an area almost as large as Puerto Rico, or roughly twice the size of Rhode Island.
Avoiding peatland impacts would prevent the release of 678 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year (MtCO2e/year). That’s comparable to the emissions from 145 million passenger vehicles per year.
The biggest challenge to successfully avoiding peatland conversion will be monitoring and enforcement. Indonesia, for instance, is a hotspot of peatland conversion. But while there are regulations in place to protect peatlands, experience shows that they are frequently not enforced.
Avoiding peatland loss is a low-cost pathway that could be implemented immediately. We estimate that 60 percent of the mitigation potential of avoiding peatland conversion could be achieved at a low cost.
Spotlight: Preserving Indonesian Borneo’s Forested Peatlands
The island of Borneo, shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, is an important habitat for orangutans, clouded leopards and many other plant and animal species. Yet the island’s natural lands are under extreme threat from logging, mining and palm oil plantations.
In an attempt to protect the existing habitat, Indonesian Borneo made an agreement with the United States under the U.S. Tropical Forest Conservation Act, which diverts foreign debt repayments to protect critical forest habitat. The 2011 agreement transferred $28.5 million intended to repay Indonesia’s debts to the U.S. into a fund for conservation efforts. Paid out through local grants, the money was earmarked for development efforts, improving land-use planning and management and undertaking other efforts to preserve Borneo’s remaining forests.
Indonesia is a key region for avoided peatland impacts, and other programs, such as the Conservancy’s Berau Forest Carbon Program, are taking steps to preserve forests and peatlands across the country.