Statement of the IPS to the Declaration of the “Power to the Peatlands” conference 19th to 21st September 2023, Antwerp, Belgium
The Power to the Peatlands conference took place in Antwerp on September 19-21, 2023. It had 547 attendants on site, and around 140 online. Participants joined from 29 European countries, and additionally 17 from countries outside of Europe.
At the end of this conference, a declaration to Empower nature, climate and future now! was agreed by 80 of the participants calling for joint urgent action to safeguard peatlands in Europe.
The International Peatland Society (IPS) congratulates the organisers on the successful conference but makes the following comments. Please find the original declaration at the end of this post.
- This conference marked the end of the EU-funded Care-Peat, a six year long (2019-2023) Interreg North-West Europe (NWE) project with 12 partners working together to reduce carbon emissions and restore the carbon storage capacity of different types of peatlands in North-West Europe. It enabled partners to share their findings and conclusions and an opportunity to other peatland experts to share their results and views.
- From an information dissemination point of view this conference was a success that was overshadowed by a hastily prepared Statement put to the meeting at its final session. The record shows this was ‘accepted’ by only 80 (12%) of the participants but has been broadcast as if it had been agreed by the majority.
- The statement appears to be to gather support for a strengthening of the proposed EU Nature Restoration Law that is in a critical stage of its adoption by the EU. This is accompanied by a number of general assertions canvassing support for peatland conservation, restoration and sustainable management all of which are welcomed.
- The Statement was distributed with a covering letter from Professor Dr Rudy van Diggelen, Chair of the conference, containing several errors of fact and without evidence to support some claims.
- For example, this was not the largest conference of peatland experts ever held as this was achieved at the 16th International Peatland Congress in Kuching, Sarawak in 2016 that, similar to earlier IPS congresses had more than one thousand participants.
- The same criticism can be levied at the Statement itself in which it is asserted that “Peatlands must be wet to fully provide water regulation, unique biodiversity and essential social and cultural values”.
- The Statement goes on to mention joint action is urgently needed to address problems of peatland degradation requiring conservation, restoration, rewetting, and more. While laudable, this is simplistic as any peatland is a mosaic of microhabitats of varying biodiversity and hydrology whose variations and interactions require detailed study and understanding.
- More than anything peatlands have to co-exist with people, especially those who depend on them for livelihoods. This might not be an ideal setting but is reality in many temperate and tropical regions.
- Some actions in the Statement are misguided such as the one demanding to “stop all extraction and use of peat”. The allegations are made frequently that peat extraction and usage destroys rare biodiversity, causes climate change essentially and destroys important cultural and scientific artefacts. None of these assertions are completely true and should at least be discussed and proven. They reflect the biased and unbalanced views of those who believe peatlands are a magical force intricately linked to climate change processes that can save the world.
- Globally, there are approximately 4.23 million km2 of peatlands (approx. 3 percent of the land surface of the Earth), the vast majority of which (~80 percent) is in a natural state and is not drained. Only 0.05% of the global peatland area is used for peat extraction for its usage in horticulture (2,000 km2). The remaining share of the globally, drained peatlands are used for agricultural or forestry purposes.
- It must also be considered what economic and social services peat provides in horticulture. Peat-containing growing media are important for food security and irreplaceable for many parts of vegetable production, and to provide consistency and reliability in the cultivation of ornamental plants. Plants are also needed to green cities. Without peat as a basis, European horticulture is threatened with relocation to Asia. There must be a holistic view of sustainability without black and white thinking.
- The peat extraction industry proactively embraces its responsibility by implementing planned rehabilitation of already degraded peatlands, aligning with the principles of wise peatland use. This approach not only mitigates environmental impacts but also leverages industry expertise in nature-based solutions for peatland rewetting. Expanding this knowledge to additional areas offers a valuable opportunity for broader ecological restoration and sustainable peatland management.
In spite of the shortcomings of the conference statement we congratulate the organisers for a successful meeting that highlighted the importance of peatlands, especially in global biodiversity and climate change processes while contributing to local livelihoods and national economies.
We all agree that more research and actions are needed for peatlands and warmly invite you to the 17th International Peatland Congress in China in August 2024.
International Peatland Society, December 2023
Peatlands can help solve many challenges that people face now and in the future. Peatlands are huge, but vulnerable carbon stocks. They store and regulate water, harbour unique biodiversity, and provide essential social and cultural values. Peatlands must be wet to fully provide these functions.
Drained peatlands cause massive economic and environmental harm; by releasing the previously stored carbon, they globally emit double the greenhouse gases produced by air travel.
We have to act together. Land users, land owners, decision makers, NGOs, scientists and entrepreneurs must find common ground. Conservation, rewetting and restoration of peatlands are key to reach global and EU goals with respect to climate, soil health, water, biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods. We feel the urgency, we know what to do. We must act now!
1. Preserve all natural peatlands and organic soils within Europe and beyond
o Immediately stop any further drainage or reclamation.
2. Accelerate rewetting of drained peatland
o Rewet to stop CO2 emissions and to enhance water retention, water quality, and biodiversity.
3. Move rapidly to sustainable business models and wet peatland use
o Integrate environmental benefits, rural income generation and production of high-quality biomass.
o Phase out all drainage-based land use and public payments encouraging these.
o Stimulate the creative entrepreneurship of farmers, land owners and downstream industries.
o Progress rewetting, paludiculture and carbon farming in agricultural policy and payment schemes.
o Stop all extraction and use of peat.
4. Make high-resolution open-source data available to guide and facilitate conservation, rewetting, restoration and sustainable use
o Support peatland mapping, monitoring and research to improve and verify national greenhouse gas inventories, biodiversity reporting, and carbon standards.
5. Acknowledge the central and connecting role of water in the landscape
o Treat peatlands as integral parts of catchment areas to improve landscape-wide water security.
6. Include ambitious peatland restoration targets in the Nature Restoration Law!
o Make the Nature Restoration Law consistent with other and overarching EU and global policy targets and commitments.
Photo: Kirveslampi in Leivonmäki, Finland by Susann Warnecke