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Underestimated for too long: Nitrous oxide emissions from drained peatlands

As part of the LIFE Peat Restore project, NABU starts GHG measurements in degraded peatlands

Berlin, April 25, 2018 – Degraded peatlands globally emit a significant amount of nitrous oxide: The negative effect on climate change is thus worse than anticipated. This was confirmed in the Nature Journal by an international team of scientists led by Professor Ülo Mander from the University of Tartu, Estonia. In addition to carbon, peatlands also store significant amounts of nitrogen.

When drained, peatlands release nitrous oxide, which is a cause for concern. The greenhouse gas potential of nitrous oxide is 298 times higher than that of carbon dioxide and has a negative impact on the carbon footprint. The international study indicates that 72 percent of global nitrous oxide emissions come from drained peatlands. The EU climate protection targets 2030 cannot be achieved unless all already drained peatlands are completely restored. In Germany alone, about 38,000 hectares of degraded peatlands would have to be restored each year.

“The land use of our peatlands needs to change substantially,” says NABU Vice President Thomas Tennhardt. “Nowadays, peatland protection is one of the key instruments for climate protection. We must completely quit drainage-oriented agriculture, “says Tennhardt. In the past, livestock farming and artificial fertilization were the main causes of high nitrous oxide emissions in the agricultural emissions sector.

Letícia Jurema, head of the EU-LIFE project Peat Restore, coordinated by NABU, also argues for a systematic peatland restoration. “We need to immediately start, in order to achieve the 2030 climate targets”. Until 2021, she will restore 5,300 hectares of degraded peatlands in Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia with her project team. Large-scale greenhouse gas measurements on the project sites have started already with regard to the greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, which are relevant for climate protection.

Although peatlands account for only 3 % of terrestrial surfaces worldwide, they store almost 30 % of the soil carbon. Globally, all forests in sum only store about half of that amount. Under natural conditions, peatlands act as carbon sinks. They absorb carbon dioxide and nitrogen from the atmosphere and store them in the peat. Peatlands drained for agricultural purposes release climate-damaging greenhouse gases.

The study cited above: „Nitrogen-rich organic soils under warm well-drained conditions are global nitrous oxide emission hotspots“