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UN Climate conference in Cancún – what is at stake for wetlands?


The major UN climate conference takes place in Cancún, Mexico, where in the coming two weeks (29 November – 11 December) country delegations will negotiate next steps towards a new climate agreement. This may become an important meeting as countries could agree on reducing emissions from deforestation. One other key element on this agenda is to reduce the annual emissions from drained peatlands, in order to address this so far ignored part of the global greenhouse gas emissions.

Moving closer to addressing wetland loss under a new climate deal

The alarming emissions from the loss of peatsoils (caused by conversion and drainage) are currently not addressed at the climate conference. This leaves 2 billion tonnes, 6% of all global emissions unaddressed. But important steps have been made throughout the climate negotiations in the past years that enable a positive decision for peatlands in both developed and developing countries in Cancún, including work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on measuring peatland emissions. 

Accounting for wetland emissions and removals

Developed countries currently do not have to account for emissions from degrading peatsoils under the Kyoto Protocol. In this way these emissions are ‘hidden’ and no measure is provided to reduce them. One of the issues on the table is whether under a new Kyoto Protocol countries should account for emissions from wetlands and in this way get a strong incentive to conserve and restore peatlands.

Protection and restoration of peat soils under REDD

In tropical countries, peat soils are massively conversed to plantations or for other forms of land use. For instance in Indonesia, which emits about 900 Mtons of CO2 from the loss of their peatlands per year, there will be little peat left in 20 years if we do not stop their destruction immediately. This is a climate problem but also a disaster for the last biodiversity rich peatswamp forests of Sumatra and Borneo.

There are strong hopes that the Cancún summit can come to a conclusion on REDD, a proposed new scheme that provides developing countries with incentives for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. There are promising signs that REDD will enable positive incentives for addressing the alarming emissions from tropical peatlands.

Wetlands International will be present in Cancún from 29 November to 11 December to continue its advocacy for emissions reductions from peatlands in a new climate agreement.

For more information:
Wetlands International
Susanna Tol (present in Cancun)
Tel. +31 0(6) 22624702

In the Netherlands:

Alex Kaat 

Tel. +31 0(6) 50601917

Read more on:

Follow us in Cancún through Twitter: WetlandsInt

Large areas of organic wetland (peat) soils are currently drained for agriculture, forestry and peat extraction. As a result, the organic carbon that was built up over thousands of years is exposed to the air, decomposes and turns into the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. This process is taking place all over the world. Globally anthropogenic emissions from organic (peat) soils in wetlands amount to 2 Gton of CO2 per year (in total 6% of all global anthropogenic CO2 emissions), of which at least 500 Mton is emitted from peatland drainage in developed countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol.

Carbon stocks in peat soils are twice the carbon stock in global forest biomass. This was demonstrated by Wetlands International andGreifswald University in the Global Peatland CO2 Picture, a report presented to the UNFCCC in November 2009, which shows the emissions from peatland drainage for each country with peat in the world. 

Video: Restoring the peatland forests in Indonesia

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