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Tuesday, May 21, 2024


THE UK has emitted around 50 million tonnes of carbon in the last five years from ‘collapsing’ peatlands it has been revealed ahead of the start of the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.

Environmental monitoring specialists Terra Motion, who has an office in the North West, mapped the surface motion of all peatland areas across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and, from the 2.2 million hectares of the UK surveyed, the results showed that some 19 per cent have collapsed by more than 2.5cm since 2016.

The map was generated from the analysis of five years’ worth of radar images from the European Sentinel-1 satellite. Thousands of images were processed using Terra Motion’s APSIS technology which is uniquely able to work over vegetated and natural surfaces, to generate land motion measurements across the country. The data has been analysed by studies led by the University of Nottingham and the Environmental Research Institute, Thurso.

Andrew Sowter, Director at Terra Motion, who discussed these findings at COP26 on 11 November 2021, said: “This is the first time that such an extensive survey has been performed across the UK and it shows that significant areas of peatlands are collapsing across the country, a likely sign of extensive damage.

“From the 2.2 million hectares of the UK surveyed, some 19 per cent have collapsed by more than 2.5cm over five years. Assuming that this collapse is an indication of active erosion or oxidation, we estimate that, as a whole, the UK peatlands surveyed were emitting around 10 million tonnes of carbon (CO2 equivalent) per year during 2016-21.”

The Government has committed the UK to net zero by 2050 but restoration of these peatlands would help it to meet its ambitious targets to reduce its emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 according to Mr Sowter.

Substantial grants have been set aside for funding restoration projects by the Conservative Government and the devolved nations under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, a key topic for COP26.

However, Mr Sowter says that targets will not be met without the considerable support of private investment. He estimates that the economic potential of UK peatland restoration could be worth over £500 million per year. This means that corporate companies and carbon offsetting organisations can invest in helping landowners restore peatlands and, in return, they receive ‘carbon credits’.

Businesses can buy ‘carbon credits’ generated by projects that help to clean up the environment to compensate for the emissions that they been unable to eliminate themselves. It has been reported that the voluntary carbon market will have to expand 15-fold by 2030 and 100-fold in order for the UK to achieve net zero by 2050.

“Using the emission figures from the Terra Motion survey and an approximate current commercial value of carbon of around £50 per tonne CO2e, we estimate that the economic potential of UK peatland restoration could be worth over £500 million per year,” said Mr Sowter.

“Using an estimate of £1,000 per hectare for total restoration costs, we conclude that with an appropriate carbon offsetting scheme, any actual costs of a restoration project could be recovered in the first year of operation, making investing in peatlands restoration a highly lucrative proposition.

“Peatland restoration is a nature-based solution which brings with it other co-benefits such as improved biodiversity and water quality, as well as the promise of increasing job opportunities in rural areas, which also have significant economic benefits to landowners and local communities.”

Dianna Kopansky Programme Management Officer and Global Peatlands Initiative Coordinator at UNEP, said: “Linking up to raise awareness of the potential of healthy peatlands for climate action, nature protection and our overall well-being is vital.

“The cutting-edge work carried out by Terra Motion clearly shows that UK peatlands are rapidly degrading and that their restoration makes economic and climate sense. Sharing and learning from novel techniques shows that together we can highlight the importance and opportunity of peatlands restoration to help us address the climate and nature emergency.”


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