The Essential Carbon Service Provided by Northern Peatlands

Lorna Harris
Karen Richardson
Kelly Bona
Scott Davidson
Sarah Finkelstein
Michelle Garneau
Jim McLaughlin
Felix Nwaishi
David Olefeldt
Maara Packalen
Nigel Roulet
Meg Southee
Maria Strack
Kara Webster
Sophie Wilkinson
Justina Ray
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Northern peatlands have cooled the global climate by accumulating large quantities of soil carbon (C) over thousands of years. Maintaining the C sink function of these peatlands and their immense long-term soil C stores is critical for achieving net-zero global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2050 to mitigate climate warming. One-quarter of the world’s northern peatlands are in Canada, with these mostly intact ecosystems providing a global C service that is increasingly recognized as a critical part of nature-based solutions to combat climate change. However, land-use change and other disturbances threaten these globally important stores of “irrecoverable C” (that is, soil C lost to disturbance that will take centuries to recover). Inadequate policy safeguards to avoid conversion and degradation, and the limited quantification and reporting of peatland greenhouse-gas emissions and removals, increase the vulnerability of these peatlands. Targeted policies from local to global scales will be needed for improved decision making and incentivizing long-term C management of northern peatlands.