Although peatlands make up only 3% of the world’s landmass, they have a huge impact on the global climate. Because peatlands prevent plant matter from decomposing, which would normally convert the organic carbon in the plant matter to CO2, they are the largest terrestrial carbon store. In their natural state, peatlands store more than double the carbon of all the world’s forests combined, even though forests take up 10x as much landmass.
However, in the last couple of decades, vast amounts of peatlands across the globe have been drained. Often, this is done to create agricultural lands; in the Netherlands for example, peat is drained to create grazing land for dairy cattle. Drained peatland can also be burned for fuel, and this newly dried-up environment enables massive wildfires to start on their own and burn for days, weeks, and even years.
So far, 15% of global peatlands have been drained, which has hugely problematic effects on the environment. The mining, draining, and burning of peatlands causes high amounts of greenhouse gases, including CO2, that have accumulated in the peat soil over thousands of years, to be released into the atmosphere. This equates to 1.3 gigatonnes (1 gigatonne = 1 billion metric tons) of CO2 each year, accounting for almost 5.6% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.