Peat emissions could cancel forest benefits

Emissions from UK peatland could cancel out all carbon reduction achieved through new and existing forests, warns the countryside charity CPRE. It says many degraded peatlands are actually increasing carbon emissions. The government’s advisory committee on climate change told BBC News that it agreed with the conclusions of the analysis. Both that committee and the CPRE are urging more ambitious action to protect and enhance peatlands. The issue was also discussed at today’s Green Cafe meeting.

A wet, pristine peat bog soaks up CO2 and, unlike trees, has no limit to the amount of carbon it captures. Trees only capture CO2 until they are mature. But a dry, degraded bog – like many in England’s uplands – is a big source of CO2 as the carbon in the bog oxidises. So restoring bogs by filling up drainage ditches is a highly cost-effective way of reducing emissions.

The CPRE points out that around 18.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions come from peatlands every year in the UK. The same amount of emissions would be captured through existing and proposed forest. But crucially that is not before 2050 to 2055 when the trees will be fully grown. In other words, whilst forestry and peat restoration both need to be done, the best value lies with improving peat.

According to the BBC News web site Ministers aim to publish a peat strategy, but this has been delayed. A government response to the CPRE’s warning has been requested. Environmentalists insist the government strategy must ban peat extraction for gardens. Currently, suppliers are supposed to be phasing out peat voluntarily – but campaigners say it’s far too slow.

Tom Fyans from CPRE said: ‘The government has paid too little attention to emissions from peatland. As things stand, they aren’t even properly included in current emissions monitoring.

“This seriously threatens the effectiveness of other nature-based solutions, like tree planting, in tackling the climate emergency.

“We need much greater levels of investment in restoring or rewetting peatlands, and we need a strategy for a fair and managed transition to move businesses away from dependency on destructive use of peatlands.”

More details including Defra’s response at:

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