At several occasions, the Russian government has announced the plan to exploit the country’s peatlands. Recently, Konstantin Alekseyev, director of the Department of coal mining and peat industry of the Russia’s Ministry announced large scale plans in a meeting and on the ministry website (http://minenergo.gov.ru/news/min_news/1410.html) to start large scale mining of peat.
Russia possesses the greatest peat reserves in the world: 1,4 million square kilometre, 47% of the global peat resources. Most of the Northern part of the country has a peatsoil. This contains 113 Gton of carbon; if released this is 15 times all annual global carbon dioxide emissions.
Peat mining for fuel is a very old activity in Russia. For local use in the country side, it can be done with quite limited impacts on the environment. Peat now only accounts for roughly 0.1% of Russia’ s energy use. The plans of the Russian government might increase this to roughly 10%; for use in mainly remote areas.
Wetlands International is concerned by the plans of the Russian government as is opens the peatlands for large scale uncontrolled activities. This will destroy the ecology of large areas were mining takes place but also surrounding peatswamp areas that are indirectly drained because of the mining. Besides biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions of uncontrolled peatmining are tremendous. In addition, the hydrology is disrupted when water is not stored in peatswamps anymore, causing extremes in river runoff.
Wetlands International asks the Russian government to develop only small scale mining for local use in remote areas and to only allow techniques that limit the impact on the landscape and allow natural regrowth, such as ‘ wet’ peat extraction to limit the extraction to small areas were also deep layers are mined instead of large surfaces. In addition, mined areas should be restored by ending drainage.
Peatlands in the subartic zones of Russia are very vulnerable to disturbances. Relatively limited activities such as a road have tremendous impacts on the surrounding areas as waterflows are blocked and as drainage causes the peatlands to subside and decompose. The degrading areas are often ten times the size of the area of the activity itself.
Current carbon dioxide emissions from Russia’s peatlands are still relatively small (100 mton a year). This may change dramatically if the mining plans are carried out without additional control.
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see our literature on peatlands.