Peatlands and COP21 (Paris)

Bonn, hosts of climate change talks in August/September 2015

Bonn, hosts of climate change talks in August/September 2015

Things are already warming up for the next round of climate change negotiations due to be held in Paris later in the year. Although the main negotiations won’t begin until the end of November, associated meetings have already begun in Bonn (pictured left). There is no doubt that peatlands will be on the agenda over the coming months, and as Wetlands International have commented “the mitigation opportunity presented by LULUCF emissions [emissions from land use, land-use change, and forestry] – a large segment of which (2 billion tCO2 annually) is made up of emissions from drained peatlands – are by now universally recognized, and LULUCF has taken centre stage in the Paris negotiations.”  The full article on peatlands and COP21 by Wetlands International, written in April, can be read here. We in the UK-TPWG will be watching events very closely.

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Retreating from peat!

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Deforested peatland in Borneo, with oil palm plantation in the distance.

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) has decided to ‘immediately retire’ approximately 7,000 hectares of its acacia plantations in Indonesia, with the goal of restoring them to intact peat swamp forest and developing a peatland best management practice model.  This is a bold move, forfeiting profits to comply with their Forest Conservation Policy (FCP).  Just over a year ago, they proved to be conservation forerunners again, (loudly) announcing to ‘protect and restore’ one million hectares of forest.  These come as welcome actions from APP, after it spent many years (and still is?) leading the deforestation frontier across Sumatra and Kalimantan, replacing hugely diverse ecosystems with monoculture plantations, and draining many a peatland along the way.

As Wetlands International say, there’s still a long way to go before APP can claim to be conserving, rather than destroying peatlands.  For example, how do they plan to rewet the peatlands?  What species are they going to plant into the current monocultures, and when?  How will they manage fire risk (heightened this year by ENSO) and potential flooding?   What will be the likely carbon emissions under different restoration strategies?  These are all important questions that researchers can help to answer.  Members of the UK Tropical Peatland Working Group are certainly on the case (watch this space).

But APP have given us a goal to hold them accountable to….and we must.

More information on the restoration mission from Deltares, APP’s independent peat expert team, can be found here.