climate change environment

How much CO2 does peat contain?

You don’t hear about peat very often in the news, but this week Ireland announced that it is to wind up its decades’ long peat harvesting, cutting the country’s emissions by 10% in the process. I’d like to see it go a step further and rewild those peat bogs, removing the drainage systems and beginning the process of restoring them. But it’s a step in the right direction for a landscape category that is very important to climate change.

Rainforests get all the attention, but peat bogs store a heroic amount of carbon, adding layer upon layer of it over centuries. It remains there, safely locked away, unless it gets ripped up and sold off to gardeners to spread on their raised beds, or burned as biomass.

How much carbon does peat store? Real World Visuals recently created one of their distinctive videos to illustrate the point:

Peat has been a traditional fuel in Ireland for centuries, a cheap and accessible natural resource that even the poorest could draw on. But its emissions are worse than coal when you consider how much energy it contains, and it’s time to retire it as a fuel.

Gardeners need to resist it too. There’s nothing quite like peat, and I understand why people want to add it to their soil. But the Royal Horticultural Society and the National Trust have almost completely eliminated it, and they know what they’re doing. It’s clearly possible to run a garden without it. Can we agree to leave that carbon where it lies?


  1. Up here in Saddleworth (South Pennines), the RSPB is rewetting and so restoring the extensive peat moorland, to both lock-up carbon and increase numbers of breeding waders. It has been badly degraded by sheep grazing and more recently eroded by off-road cyclists and walkers. With sheep removed, gullies can be blocked and sphagnum moss planted. This is largely sppnsored by the local utility company that values peat-free water in its reservoirs. However, part of it is grouse moor, where heather growth is encouraged (not sphagnum) and fires set to encourage new shoots as grouse food. Unfortunately, the moors suffer badly from arson (setting fires is a popular hobby for local youth) and huge damage was done this summer in the huge fire widely reported on TV. We have to persevere.

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