Protecting and cultivating peatlands to limit global warming
Today, more than a third of the last wetlands in the world have disappeared and are declining. of these environments continues to accelerate while protecting these spaces would limit global warming. Here is an analysis by Rafael Ziegler and Magali Simard (HEC Montreal) and Rahma Eldeeb (University of Montreal).
Around the world, peatlands are under threat and their destruction contributes to climate change . Degraded peatlands are responsible for approximately 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The thawing of permafrost peatlands, such as those in northern Canada, is an important “tipping point” that could lead to the acceleration of the greenhouse effect. Further south in Canada, Europe and the tropics, peatlands are drained for urban development and suburban and infrastructure expansion, to be converted to upland agriculture or to be mined for extract horticultural peat or fuel.
Peatlands are wetlands where plants decompose very slowly, capturing carbon in the soil. Protecting intact peatlands, and rewetting those that have been drained, is imperative if we are to limit global warming to below 2°C.
As part of our research, we carried out the first international survey on “wet agriculture”, or paludiculture, in order to understand how peatlands can be protected while considering the populations, for example farmers, who use them. . We also organized a workshop in Montreal for farmers and the public to present the role of peatlands in climate change and discuss malaria farming.
Malaria: a necessary innovation
Our study demonstrates that malaria cultivation is an innovation driven by necessity rather than profit motive. In places where peatlands cannot be completely protected and preserved in their natural state, such as densely populated areas in Europe, Indonesia or southern Canada, malaria cultivation allows farmers and others to use the land retaining carbon in the soil.
A peat bog is created by the partial decomposition of plants in bogs and marshes. When the soil is wet, peat can form. However, when it dries up, the carbon stored in the peat is released into the atmosphere.
Although representing only 3% of the Earth's surface, peatlands contain 33% of Earth's carbon. In Quebec, more than half of terrestrial carbon is stored in peat bogs. Their protection is therefore essential to achieving Canada's carbon neutrality objectives.
Southeastern Quebec, the most populated and urbanized area of the province, lost 19% of its peatlands between 1990 and 2011. Drainage for agricultural purposes accounts for approximately 21% of these losses, or 80,000 hectares. We estimate that peatlands drained for agriculture emit between 520,000 and 752,000 tonnes of CO2eq – annually, which represents 10% of the annual emissions of the entire agricultural sector.
The Baie-Ste-Anne volunteer fire department works to put out a bog fire in New Brunswick, August 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Diane Doiron
Beyond climate benefits, peatland protection and malaria cultivation perform many ecosystem services, including water retention and purification. They act as riparian buffers and limit the contamination of lakes, rivers and oceans by agricultural fertilizers. The destruction and loss of peatlands imposes considerable costs on the community, and this goes beyond the economic costs alone.
Our survey shows a growing interest in malaria cultivation around the world, particularly in Europe and in Indonesia. However, malaria remains virtually unexplored in Quebec and the rest of Canada.
The survey also suggests that the pioneers of malaria see the use of biomass as particularly promising for building materials, energy production, horticultural substrates and as a replacement for fodder. For example, a farmer in Malchin, Germany grows false reed canarygrass and sedges for the local thermal power plant.
A contribution to regional and circular economies
Malaria has a role to play in circular regional economies, provided it has the space and time to develop its business model. Our survey showed that collaboration between users and researchers, as well as government support over several years, are essential to a transition to wet agriculture. The business model for malaria must integrate not only climate objectives, but also other environmental objectives, such as the protection of biodiversity.
Our workshop identified several levers that could promote the development of malaria in Quebec:
- It could reduce emissions from the agricultural sector, but also generate other benefits, such as filtration and water retention, thus helping with adaptation to droughts and floods.
- Its development is supported by climate and nature protection laws, for example by the funding available for the protection of wetlands under the Act respecting the conservation of wetlands and bodies of water. Malaria is also aligned with the objectives of the Sustainable Agriculture Plan 2020-2030.
- Malaria could be explored on farms that are struggling with flooding or insufficient soil thickness , while conventional 'dry' farming would continue elsewhere.
- The cooperative culture is already well established in the province. Malaria farming requires new machinery. Risk sharing makes the cooperative model more attractive, as illustrated in our survey by a Dutch project. Co-op principles such as “co-op cooperation” and “commitment to community” can support region-wide circular economies that prioritize members, communities and the environment, over profit.< /li>
Our workshop also revealed some barriers. Socio-ecological and contextual knowledge, and education need to be strengthened. In terms of ecology, this means having a good understanding of methane emissions after rewetting during pilot malaria projects. There is also a need to strike a balance between protecting biodiversity and harvesting biomass, as the optimal time for harvesting can sometimes have a detrimental effect on the species living in the fields.
On the social side, pilot malaria projects are needed to demonstrate the business model to farmers and other users. Their success will depend on changes in regulations and subsidies.
In particular, increasing carbon prices will be crucial in establishing a level playing field. The inclusion of malaria in the European Union's carbon farming report is an indicator of this development.
A cultural paradigm shift is needed to transition to regenerative agriculture. Multifunctional agriculture serving communities, peatlands and the planet must become a public priority.
Rafael Ziegler, Full Professor, Department of Management, HEC Montréal; Magali Simard, Master's student in Management and Sustainable Development, HEC Montreal and Rahma Eldeeb, MSc Environmental Sciences and Sustainability, University of Montreal
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative license Commons. Read the original article.