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Journal Article

Peatland protection and restoration are key for climate change mitigation


Humpenöder,  Florian
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Karstens,  Kristine
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Lotze-Campen,  Hermann
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

Leifeld,  Jens
External Organizations;

Menichetti,  Lorenzo
External Organizations;

Barthelmes,  Alexandra
External Organizations;


Popp,  Alexander
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

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Humpenöder, F., Karstens, K., Lotze-Campen, H., Leifeld, J., Menichetti, L., Barthelmes, A., Popp, A. (2020): Peatland protection and restoration are key for climate change mitigation. - Environmental Research Letters, 15, 10, 104093.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_24380
Peatlands cover only about 3% the global land area, but store about twice as much carbon as global forest biomass. If intact peatlands are drained for agriculture or other human uses, peat oxidation can result in considerable CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases (GHG) for decades or even centuries. Despite their importance, emissions from degraded peatlands have so far not been included explicitly in mitigation pathways compatible with the Paris Agreement. Such pathways include land-demanding mitigation options like bioenergy or afforestation with substantial consequences for the land system. Therefore, besides GHG emissions owing to the historic conversion of intact peatlands, the increased demand for land in current mitigation pathways could result in drainage of presently intact peatlands, e.g. for bioenergy production. Here, we present the first quantitative model-based projections of future peatland dynamics and associated GHG emissions in the context of a 2°C mitigation pathway. Our spatially explicit land-use modelling approach with global coverage simultaneously accounts for future food demand, based on population and income projections, and land-based mitigation measures. Without dedicated peatland policy and even in the case of peatland protection, our results indicate that the land system would remain a net source of CO2 throughout the 21st century. This result is in contrast to the outcome of current mitigation pathways, in which the land system turns into a net carbon sink by 2100. However, our results indicate that it is possible to reconcile land use and GHG emissions in mitigation pathways through a peatland protection and restoration policy. According to our results, the land system would turn into a global net carbon sink by 2100, as projected by current mitigation pathways, if about 60% of present-day degraded peatlands would be rewetted in the coming decades, next to the protection of intact peatlands.