Peatlands cover approximately 4 million Km2 of land worldwide, and provide a third of global wetland resources. They are found in all parts of the world but predominately in the boreal, subarctic and tropical regions. While the majority of peatlands are found in Eurasia and North America, they are also found in Patagonia, Ethiopia, Table Mountain in South Africa, Mongolia and Iran. Importantly, new peatland areas are also still being discovered, including the world’s largest tropical peatland discovered beneath Congo Basin forests in 2017 (Dargie et al., 2017).
Peatlands are major contributors to biological diversity globally and provide a variety of goods and services in the form of forestry, energy, flood mitigation and maintaining reliable supplies of clean water. Owing to future climate change, the most important function of peatlands in the 21st century is that of a carbon store and sink. Covering only about 3% of the Earth’s land area, they hold the equivalent of half of the carbon that is in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2).
Peatlands have been degraded and continue to be degraded all over the world. Western Europe has already lost over 90% of its original natural peatlands. In Southeast Asia, up to 95% of the tropical peat swamp forests have been affected by logging, deforestation, drainage and agriculture. It is estimated that, globally, natural peatlands are being destroyed at a rate of 4,000 Km2/year. Damaged peatlands are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, annually releasing almost 6% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions (IUCN, 2018). People have commonly treated peatlands as wastelands, using them in destructive ways, without taking the long-term environmental and related socio-economic impacts into account. The main human impacts on peatlands worldwide include drainage for agriculture, cattle ranching and forestry, peat extraction, infrastructure developments, pollution and fires. The key economic, cultural and environmental role of peatlands in many human societies has called for a considered approach that minimises irreversible damage and sustains their capacity to deliver ecosystem services and resources for future generations (EPA, 2011). For further information on what can be done to protect peatlands globally, see the IUCN website.
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