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Peatland mapping and monitoring: Recommendations and technical overview

Peatlands cover only 3 percent of the world's surface yet contain as much carbon as all of its vegetation, dramatically underscoring their pivotal role in global climate regulation. Their degradation, by drainage or fire or other forces, triggers their conversion from slow carbon sinks into fast sources capable of releasing carbon stored over millennia in a few decades.

To avoid their degradation and effectively plan their restoration, peatlands should be urgently mapped and monitored.
To help member states on this complex task, FAO today launched Peatland mapping and monitoring, a practical publication full of accessible technical information about the world's peatlands and recommendations on how to manage these special ecosystems.

The publication is the joint work of 35 expert authors from 14 countries, and highlights experiences from tropical peatland countries such as Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Peru, and the temperate regions.

"Mapping peatlands to know their location, extent and greenhouse gas emissions potential, can help countries to plan and better manage their land, water and biodiversity, mitigating climate change and adapting to it more effectively," says Maria Nuutinen, FAO's lead peatlands expert with the Forestry Department and co-author of the publication.

Accurate mapping of peatlands is a prerequisite to effectively monitoring changes in peatland condition. For countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fire risk, monitoring peatlands' condition, especially their water level becomes key. The task requires a mix of satellite and ground-based exercises. To facilitate countries' access to high-quality imagery, FAO has developed a state-of-the-art peatland restoration monitoring module.

Accessible in SEPAL, part of FAO's geospatial toolkit, the module was successfully implemented for the first time in Indonesia by the Indonesian Peatland Restoration Agency and Ministry of Environment and Forestry. The peatland monitoring module provides timely information about soil moisture trends to help detect drainage and monitor restoration efforts. Soil moisture maps can be updated every 2 weeks using Sentinel-1 imagery from the European Space Agency.

"The open-source peatland monitoring module on the SEPAL platform will be further developed to serve the needs of the Congo Basin, helping to detect and address potential changes and avoid fires," adds Julian Fox, National Forest Monitoring Team Leader at FAO.

Among the government's initiatives are the "One Map" policy and the creation of the Peatland Ecosystem Protection and Management Plan to guide peatland protection and monitoring.. Read further from the FAO

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030 is likely to use many approaches currently developed being for FLR, including peatland restoration monitoring and land degradation neutrality (LDN), a new concept introduced by the UNCCD in 2015.The UNCCD is a legally binding international agreement linking the environment and development to sustainable land management. The Convention specifically focuses on arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid zones (drylands). The UNCCD 2018–2030 Strategic Framework is a comprehensive global commitment to achieve LDN to avoid new degradation as well as restore the productivity of large areas of degraded land, including all land types while improving livelihoods.

A set of countries are restoring previously drained peatlands as part of their voluntary commitment to achieving LDN. The LDN reporting indicators were still to be finalized at the time of writing, but a draft version contains the indicators and associated GHG emission metrics. The following are related to peatlands: land cover (assessed as land cover change), and carbon stocks (assessed as soil organic carbon, SOC), as in Parties’ regular reporting to the UNCCD. In addition, Parties are requested to identify ongoing land degradation, including gullying and coastal inundation, for example, and the drivers of land degradation, including unsustainable land use practices, such as overgrazing – both also relevant to peatlands (GEF, 2019).

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