Photo: Mélina Guêné-Nanchen
New study showcases the power of peatlands as a global climate solution
2022

New Metcalf-funded research has found that the vast and mostly intact peatlands in Canada — the largest peatland carbon stock on the planet — must be protected if the world is to achieve net-zero global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The essential carbon service provided by northern peatlands, co-authored by scientists from Canadian-based universities and research organizations, was published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Its findings were picked up by news outlets including The Globe and Mail and CBC.

Peatlands — commonly referred to as bogs, fens, muskeg, mires, and peat swamps — are wetland ecosystems where the waterlogged ground slows the decay of dead plants. Over long periods of time, these dead plants gradually build-up to form peat soils that are exceptionally rich in carbon.

Peatlands by the numbers:

  • Peatlands make up 3% of the planet’s surface while storing nearly a third of the total carbon found in soils worldwide
  • An equivalent area of peatland can hold 5x more carbon than a tropical rainforest
  • Canada is home to 25% of the world’s peatlands
  • Peatlands in Canada store approximately 150 billion tonnes of carbon — equal to 25 years of Canada’s current greenhouse gas emissions

While northern peatlands have traditionally helped cool the global climate through the storage of soil carbon, land-use changes threaten to release the stored carbon into the atmosphere, which would greatly accelerate global warming.

The study also found that the world’s second largest peatland complex is located in the Hudson Bay Lowlands, and emphasized how critical Indigenous stewardship is to the protection of peatlands in the region and across Canada. Metcalf is funding a number of First Nations throughout this region who are leading efforts to establish Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas in their homelands. Some of this work was recently featured in The Narwhal.

To learn more, explore WCS Canada’s accessible story map, which takes you on a journey through the northern peatlands of Canada and explains why they are important for our planet’s climate and biodiversity. Smart Prosperity Institute has also put together a policy brief, which highlights the policy gaps and opportunities to ensure Canadian peatlands can continue to deliver benefits for communities, climate, and biodiversity.