Plants use carbon to build their leaves, stems, and roots. Peat – a dense layer of partially decomposed vegetation – is formed when dead plants pile up in a wetland with very little oxygen. And a peatland …

Briggs: “… holds all of that carbon under lock and key so it can’t get out, and the amount of carbon held within peatlands is twice the volume of all the world’s forests.”

”‘Carbon Click To Tweet

That’s Christopher Briggs, the Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands – an intergovernmental treaty also known as Ramsar.

As peatlands around the world are drained, degraded, or burned – often for development or agriculture – they release massive amounts of heat-trapping carbon back into the atmosphere.

Briggs: “Those are massive hits on the climate change balance sheet.”

But Briggs says there’s hope.

Thanks to the Ramsar Treaty, governments are now adding their peatlands to a list of “Wetlands of International Importance.” This status can help protect and even restore them for years to come.

Briggs: “You’re not just restoring the damage but you’re also allowing a future capture of carbon from the peatlands …”

… which can help limit carbon pollution and global warming.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media/Aren Zolninger.
Photo: Wetlands with decayed vegetation known as peat moss or sphagnum (copyright protected).

More Resources
Ramsar Convention
Carbon emissions from peatlands
Plants are key to peatland carbon sinks
Swamp power: how the world’s wetlands can help stop climate change

Diana Madson

Diana Madson contributed regularly to Yale Climate Connections from 2014 to 2021. She enjoys exploring U.S.-based stories about unexpected and innovative solutions to climate change. In addition to her...