Ireland to report emissions and removals from peatlands

Published by Kayle Crosson on

7 January 2021 

Starting this year, Ireland will report the impact of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from peatlands. 

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) made the announcement today and said including managed wetlands in measurements would put the country on a “stronger footing” to meet climate targets. 

The majority of Irish land that is classified as managed wetlands is peatland, which in total accounts for about one-fifth of Ireland’s total landmass. 

Under the new EU land use accounting system that takes effect this year, emissions and removals from managed cropland, grassland, and forestry will be included in greenhouse gas emission targets, and Ireland has opted to include the addition of its peatlands.

Including the sector will increase motivation for petland rehabilitation and could change peatlands from being a carbon source to a carbon sink, according to the Department. 

“What gets measured gets managed, and this will incentivise us to create more potential for carbon sinks,” Minister Eamon Ryan said. 

“Much work will be needed” 

The Irish Peatland Conservation Council welcomed the announcement, but noted that to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, much work will be needed through rehabilitating and restoring these habitats. 

The organisation also welcomed the increase of the carbon tax on auto and solid fuels in the 2020 budget, as some is being utilised to restore peatlands, but noted that the policy has a “serious loophole”. 

“The tax does not apply to private turf production for domestic use as this fuel is not being purchased and at the point of cutting from the bog, it is not suitable for burning,” they told The Green News. 

“Despite greenhouse gas emissions being the highest from turf of all fossil fuels, there is no carbon tax to be paid on its production,” they said. 

David Wilson of Earthy Matters Environmental Consultants also welcomed the development but stressed that “areal estimates of some managed peatland land use categories (LUC) remain very poor”. 

“Clearly much more precise areal estimates are required if we are to reach what the DECC call a ‘stronger footing’”, he said. 

Peatland emissions 

To date, drained peatlands emit approximately 11 million tonnes of CO2 each year, which is just short of all energy sector emissions in 2018

Speaking before the Climate Action Committee last year, UCD’s Dr Florence Renou-Wilson stressed that restoring Ireland’s peatland ecosystem is vital if we are to reach carbon neutrality by mid-century. 

Dr Renou Wilson and colleagues from UCD found in a major research project that Irish peat soils contain 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon. 

Its ability to accumulate carbon is reliant on waterlogged conditions that prevent organic matter from completely decomposing. 

Peatlands also provide crucial ecosystem services, supporting wide-ranging and unique biodiversity, as well as filtering water and protecting against flooding. 

However, due to long-term and continued drainage for extraction for numerous purposes, including domestic fuel, horticulture, and to make way for expanded agriculture and forestry. 

The impacts of climate change will exacerbate the situation peatlands are facing, she added, as the likes of summer drought become a more frequent occurrence. 

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