Global progress to tackle the climate crisis through peatland action presented at UN Climate Conference

Delegates to the UN climate conference (COP25) in Madrid last week heard about N8 AgriFood research showing that countries around the world are beginning to conserve, restore and sustainably manage their peatlands.

Peatlands are the world’s largest carbon store, holding more than twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests, but damaged peatlands are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Representatives from countries around the world gathered in Madrid last week to work out how they will make cuts to emissions promised under the Paris Agreement, and peatland restoration is widely regarded as a cost-effective option that can also bring benefits for wildlife, water supplies and livelihoods.

The research was led by Prof Mark Reed, N8 AgriFood’s Newcastle University Chair, as part of an N8 AgriFood project from the Valuing Nature Programme in collaboration with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Committee on Environmental Management and UK Peatland Programme, and the United Nations Global Peatland Initiative.

The IUCN and N8 AgriFood team have been charged with monitoring progress towards a 2016 IUCN resolution, which was reflected in resolutions on global peatlands earlier this year by UN Environment and the Ramsar Convention.

The majority of countries responding to the survey had or were developing national strategies to protect and restore their peatlands. Eight out of 11 priority countries with the largest area of peatlands and highest emissions from those peatlands had a national strategy (two had a strategy under development, one had no strategy and eight did not respond to the survey). A total of 27 national peatland strategies were found. Most of these included co-ordination of action to protect existing peatlands, work to assess the distribution and condition of peatlands and policies to support local communities.

Few however included policies to sustainably manage peatlands, monitor greenhouse gases, stop peat extraction or leverage private investment in restoration.

Linked to this work, Prof Reed, pictured left, is chairing a working group for the United Nations Global Peatlands Initiative to identify national research funding opportunities and policy-relevant research priorities that can be co-ordinated internationally with funding from the UN system.

The group has identified 23 priority research questions on topics ranging from
climate change and peatland degradation to blended finance for peatland restoration.

One of the key barriers to developing peatland policy, discussed already in Madrid, are the
challenges associated with mapping the location and condition of the world’s peatlands.
One of the world’s largest peatlands was only discovered in 2016 under remote tropical
forests in the Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo. However, attempts to
better identify and protect peatlands like these are being hampered by problems with data.

For example, it can be difficult to directly compare policy options because researchers have
evaluated each option in different ways (e.g. whether an option enhances biodiversity or mitigates climate change). It is also difficult to combine insights from different studies about the same issue when studies measure different outcomes in different ways, and do not fully or consistently report the data. As a result, many decisions in policy and practice are informed by the results of individual studies, which are often later contradicted by the findings of subsequent research.

In response to this, the N8 AgriFood team with Dr Gav Stewart and Dr Dylan Young, are leading a process to standardise the collection of environmental data so it can be combined from multiple studies and sites to better inform policy and practice.

After starting with UKpeatlands, the group is now replicating the process across other peatlands as part of the United Nations Global Peatland Initiative, before exploring the potential to extend the approach to other areas of environmental science.

COP25 conference delegates saw the most important variables that have emerged from the pilot process in the UK, and had the opportunity to get involved in the international process to identify the most important variables that need to be measured in tropical peatlands.

The group is now planning to identify a menu of methods for measuring each variable that can make it easier for future researchers to conduct meta-analyses of multiple studies. In their menu, the group aim to identify methods that can be used by non-researchers and those with limited resources.

Dianna Kopansky from the UN Global Peatlands Initiative said: “It is crucial that we standardise how we collect and report data if we are to map where the world’s peatlands are, and what condition they are in.

“The United Nations Global Peatlands Initiative and the International Tropical Peatlands Centre want to enable researchers from around the world to generate and share data more effectively to inform international policy.

“This is an important step towards establishing the state of the world’s peatlands in a Global Peatland Assessment.”

Prof Mark Reed added: “If we are serious about evidence-based policy and practice, initiatives like the identification of core outcomes for tropical peatlands, are of crucial importance.

“This initiative won’t instantly enable us to harmonise data to create accurate global peat maps, or provide evidence synthesis to support the next decision policy-makers need to make. But we must stop and think about how we collect and report data now, if we want the data we collect to enable more evidence-based policy and practice in years to come.”

Find out more
Watch the presentation given by Prof Reed at COP25
Download a form to join the Global Peatlands Initiative Research Funding Working Group
Download a form to get involved in the identification of key variables that should be measured for tropical peatlands, to inform the Global Peatlands Initiative
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