is Climate Protection
Why Replace Peat?
Globally, peat is still the most widely used raw material for potting soils and substrates. However, peat extraction in drained peatlands is associated with high greenhouse gas emissions, particularly during the use and post-use phase of the extracted peat. Peat is created by the accumulation non- or barely decomposed organic material in the absence of oxygen. This process takes place in intact, water-saturated peatlands. Intact peatlands bind six times more carbon in the soil than forests within the same area and are therefore important for climate protection.
Much of the peatland in Europe was drained in the 19th and 20th centuries to make the land usable for agriculture. Due to contact with oxygen, peat decomposes in drained, degraded peatlands. In addition to carbon emissions, nitrous oxide — which is much more harmful to the climate — is released in that process. Drained peatlands accelerate climate change through the emission of these greenhouse gases.
In peatlands, most of which have been drained for a long time, peat is extracted as a component of growing media. Since peat decomposition also happens while the potting soil or substrate substrate is used, further greenhouse gas emissions are generated. As a result, peat often has a worse carbon footprint than peat substitutes.
History of Peat Reduction
People Start Draining European Peatlands
Peatland is drained for agricultural purposes, settlement construction, or energy production. In Europe, peat draining and cutting are viewed as economic and cultural progress.
First Research on Peatlands is Conducted
The first scientific book on peatlands was published in 1658. It already contains a chapter about the function as well as the restoration of peatlands. In 1764, new scientific work suggests that restoring peatlands could be a lengthy process.
Drainage Projects often Reflect Social and Political Conditions
For example, during World War II, prisoners or low-cost labor force from disadvantaged populations were employed for drainage works.
Industrialization Leads to a Systematic Development of Peatlands
In Europe, draining and using peatlands represents the primary goal of peatland management. Particularly in the temperate climate zone of the northern hemisphere, the industrialization of agriculture strongly accelerates the large-scale draining of peatlands. As a result, many industrialized countries have few remaining natural peatlands.
18 Nations Agree on Protecting Wetlands as Habitats by Adopting the Ramsar Convention
The agreement is based on voluntary participation of the states and is therefore not legally binding. During this time, the Ramsar Convention represents the only agreement on protecting wetlands. In 2021, the Ramsar Convention lists 172 participating countries.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Views Peat as a Source of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
For the first time, peat is categorized as a fossil fuel within the 1996 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories.
The Restoration of Peatlands is Gaining in Importance
Warnings from scientists receive more attention and first peatland conservation projects are realized. While peatlands were considered “useless” and “dangerous” for a long time, today they are perceived as irreplaceable natural habitats that require active protection.
The German Government Adopts the Climate Action Plan 2050 to Implement the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement
The Climate Action Plan sets sector-specific emission reduction and climate protection targets. Besides stopping the conversion of peatland soils, peatlands shall be protected through reducing and eventually discontinuing peat cutting.
The United Nations Environment Assembly Adopts a Resolution on Peatland Protection
All member states are urged to make a strong commitment towards the protection, sustainable use and restoration of peatlands.
The German Government Adopts the Climate Action Programme 2030
The program serves to implement the Climate Action Plan 2050 by providing appropriate measures. These measures also aim at protecting peat soils, for example, by reducing the application of peat in growing media.
Europe Continues to lose its Natural Peatlands
Nowadays, more than 50% of European peatlands have been “drained, degraded and developed.”
The Beginning of HORTICERT – Concept Development of Certification System for Peat Substitutes
The German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture has commissioned Meo Carbon Solutions GmbH (MCS) via the Agency for Renewable Resources to develop and implement an internationally oriented certification system for peat substitutes. MCS is developing a concept for such a certification system.
The German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) Adopts the Peatland Protection and Peat Use Reduction Strategy
This strategy implies a drastic reduction of the use of peat as a growing medium and request, where possible, switching to peat-free, climate-friendly alternatives. The use of peat is to be discontinued in hobby gardening by 2026 and in professional horticulture by 2030.
Pilot Testing and Optimization of HORTICERT
In order to test the developed certification concept in practice, MCS carries out pilot certifications. Based on the results, the HORTICERT concept is further developed and optimized. In addition, sustainability checklists as well as system documents for the certification processes are created.
HORTICERT – Transition into Regular Implementation
After successfully completing the pilot phase, the first official HORTICERT certificates can be issued. This will enable peat substitute and growing media producers to prove that their product has been produced sustainably along the entire supply chain.
Peatlands as Important Ecosystems
In addition to their important role as carbon sinks, peatlands are also habitats for rare species that have adapted to the extreme conditions in peatlands over thousands of years. Thus, peatlands are an important component of biodiversity conservation.
Intact peatlands serve to protect groundwater and prevent floods.
Peatlands are able to absorb large amounts of water and release it only slowly. This can prevent flooding and high water. Peatlands further improve drinking water quality by functioning as water filters.*
Peat substitutes have the potential to partially or completely replace peat in substrate production and thus reduce peat extraction. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions and protects peatlands as valuable ecosystems. Therefore, promoting suitable and sustainable peat alternatives is crucial in achieving the goal of a peat-friendly growing media industry.