Reporting from COP26 with Roisin Taylor, climate change project manager in the UK land, seas and climate policy team, on how we are taking peat to the global stage of COP26.

Whilst COP26 is often referred to as the ‘climate conference’, it is our role to ensure that nature is part of that climate conversation. One of our key asks is that the COP26 decision text recognises the critical role of nature in meeting the Paris Goals of limiting warming to 1.5°C and commit countries to its protection and restoration. We know that peat can play a big role in storing carbon, but it also has many other incredible benefits that we want to showcase to our decision makers and negotiators.

Whether it’s battling to protect our peatland stores from extraction for horticultural peat, or to restore our peatland habitats at a landscape scale for carbon and nature, the RSPB is taking the fight for peat to the international stage. At COP26 in Glasgow, we have been showcasing the power of peat through our co-sponsorship of the IUCN Peatland Pavilion.

The IUCN Peatland Pavilion is an in-person event space within the blue zone, but there is also a conferencing platform and virtual pavilion where you can access all the talks live and for free, as well as see lots of inspirational peat content for free. In this space, we’re delivering two panel talks, to bring the work we are doing and the work that needs to be done on peatlands, to life.  

Peatland protection is vital in our fight against climate change but they are also precious places for wildlife and are under threat globally. Around the world they are dug for peat, drained, and converted to farming and forestry, and they are burned.  

By bringing peat to the global stage at COP26, we want to reinforce that without restoring all of our peatlands to wetlands, reaching net zero for the UK by 2050 is impossible. These are not just open, heather-filled landscapes of northern England and Scotland, they’re complex UK wide eco-systems that provide adaptation to climatic changes for local communities, and incredible spaces for nature to thrive. 

The Earth’s Thirst

 Our first talk was: Protecting and harnessing the power of peat in the fight against climate change - Monday 1st November 2021

Our session opened with this incredible poem from Vanessa Kisuule called ‘The Earth’s Thirst’ as part of Hot Poets, a series of commissioned poems called 12 Poems To Save The World. This moving poem was followed by a talk from Dr Olly Watts, Senior Policy Officer at the RSPB who reminded us that ‘ONS put a price on investment in peatland restoration, 5 to 13 times return on cost for carbon alone over 100 years’ which doesn’t take into account the water, nature or recreation benefits.

Paul Walton, Head of Species and Habitats at RSPB Scotland, spoke then about mistakes that had been made in tree planting policy in the 1980’s resulting in extraordinary levels of tree planting on peat. This is a problem that to this day we are having to solve, through the removal of trees and restoration of the damaged peat. Milly Hayward, one of our residential volunteers at the RSPB Forsinard reserve spoke enthusiastically about the work that she delivers as a volunteer there, and the repair that is on-going to the landscape.

John Martin, Head of Policy and Advocacy for RSPB NI, spoke about the biodiversity and economic benefits of peatland restoration for the community, with a particular focus on the work valuing our peatlands at Garron Plateau. Head of International Peatlands and Southeast Asia at NABU Germany, Tom Kirschey spoke about European parallels in our restoration work, and opportunities coming up to deliver more peatland protection.

We were then joined my Natural England CEO, Marian Spain, for the Q&A session. We had some insightful questions from all over the globe via the conferencing platform and in the room – the desire for urgency on peatland action was palpable.  

Peatland, people and partnerships

We know that any nature-based solution to climate change needs to be delivered in partnership with local communities, which is why our second event – Peatland, people and partnerships on Thursday 11th November 2021, looks at just that.

The Cairngorms Connect Partnership project is a 200-year, landscape-scale vision for restoration, protection, biodiversity and community. Why not join us to hear from our partners, youth voices and local business on how peat impacts them in a talk led by Anne McCall – Director of RSPB Scotland.

Link to sign up here.

What can we do on an individual level?

The public, as consumers, can play a crucial part in saving our peatlands. Peat is used widely as a soil conditioner in our composts. The UK’s amateur sector makes up c 70% of horticultural peat use and two thirds of the peat sold in the UK is imported from the rest of Europe. This means peat users are contributing to both destroying peatlands across the continent and the UK is effectively exporting its carbon footprint.

We want to send a clear signal to our governments that banning the sale of peat is a popular policy. We would like you to pledge to stop using peat. And encourage your elected representatives to ask them to support banning the sale of peat.

To find out how you can do so, click here and join in #ForPeatsSake!

Through low levels of protection and poor condition, 76% of our peatland habitat in the UK is now degraded which means it is releasing the equivalent of 5% of the UK’s greenhouse gases every year. That is more annual emissions than all HGV trucks on the UK’s roads.  

Showcasing the positive impact that peatland restoration can have, on a global stage, is part of our contribution to fight for the power of peat. It is vital we move to restore and protect these habitats with urgency. Without doing so, we will not reach net zero by 2050.

To join us to watch our panel sessions – sign up here for free. Or keep an eye out for the recordings on the Global Peatland Initiative website

To join our #ForPeatsSake campaign, visit our e-action. 

If you want to hear more about our work at COP26, catch up with COPCAST our podcast every day from the climate conference