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The World’s Largest Carbon Sinks are Becoming “Carbon Bombs”: Peatlands

Image from the International Peatland Society (2022).

Peatlands are tropical moist forests found in Russia, Indonesia, the USA, Canada, Finland, Congo, and other parts of the world. They are the most extensive terrestrial carbon storage on Earth, absorbing more carbon than any other type of vegetation. Essentially, peatlands are made up of an accumulation of slowly decomposing plants and other organic material known as peat. Globally, these wetlands make up only 3 percent of the earth’s land area but store twice as much carbon as all of the trees on the planet. However, due to the prevalence of peat fires, these luscious forests are doing the opposite of absorbing carbon: they contribute to the release of almost 6% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions annually. Why? Well, when destroyed, peatlands release all the carbon dioxide and other emissions it absorbs, actively contributing to more emissions. Peatland fires often survive under the soil, where they spread to neighbouring forests unseen for months. Due to the important role peatlands have in storing carbon, facilitating biodiversity, water resource management, and local community livelihoods, we believe that protecting Indonesia’s peatlands is vital, especially in abundant peatland regions like Indonesia.

What are the effects:

  1. Release of CO2, other greenhouse emissions (ex: methane, nitrogen dioxide, etc.), and particulate matter (PM)

  2. Destruction of natural habitats: A recent OuTrop study shows that orangutans in Sbanagau are facing threat and have dramatic population decline within just two decades. Peatland fires are a massive threat to biodiversity and threatened species populations.

  3. Economic repercussions: According to an article from Nature titled “Assessing the cost of Indonesian fires and the benefits of restoring peatlands,” the fires in 2015 alone resulted in economic losses totalling US$28 billion.

  4. Health: contributing to degrading air quality and smog

Alarming Statistics:

  • 15% of peatlands globally have already been drained

  • 5 - 10% of peatlands have been degraded

  • Releases 5 - 10% of global carbon emissions annually


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