A critical tool for addressing climate change in Scotland, the restoration of peatlands, is struggling to gain financial support.

Experts highlight that improving the state of poor quality peatlands could significantly cut the nation’s emissions, nearly as much as completely decarbonizing Scotland’s housing sector.

Despite its importance, peatland restoration isn’t recognized as a legitimate way to offset greenhouse gas emissions by influential climate organizations.

A group of companies and environmental charities has raised concerns with the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), arguing that its stance is discouraging private investments in peatland projects.

Although SBTi states that it promotes investing in peatlands in addition to reducing emissions, the lack of recognition for peatland restoration as a credible offset method remains a barrier.

Peatlands in Scotland have formed over millennia, created by layers of mosses and vegetation that become trapped in water. This anaerobic environment prevents the decomposition of plants, effectively trapping carbon.

However, when peatlands are damaged, often due to land drainage for agriculture or forestry, they dry out and release stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

Scotland is home to most of the UK’s peatlands, particularly in its upland regions, including the Flow Country, which hosts the world’s most extensive blanket bog system.

Peatlands cover roughly 20% of Scotland’s land area, but a vast majority are in poor condition. Degraded peatlands release over six million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, which is comparable to emissions from home heating, a sector that contributes to 15% of Scotland’s emissions.

In response, the Scottish government committed to restoring 250,000 hectares of peatland by 2030.

Despite this ambitious goal, progress has been slow, with only about 18,500 hectares restored in the first three years.

Carbon offsetting typically involves companies purchasing carbon credits to compensate for their emissions. The prevalent method for earning these credits is through tree planting, though future technologies like carbon capture could play a role too.

Critics argue that this system permits companies to continue polluting, though bodies like the Climate Change Committee support the use of high-integrity carbon credits as part of the transition to net-zero emissions.

Recognizing the necessity of private finance alongside public funding is crucial for preserving the carbon stores in peatlands.

Freddie Ingleby, from Caledonian Climate Partners, underscores that the current focus on tree planting and future carbon removal technologies overshadows the potential of peatland restoration.

Ingleby advocates for allowing emission reduction carbon credits from peatland projects to be included in business net-zero targets, which is currently not the case. This inclusion could drive more investments toward peatland restoration.

The financial burden of climate mitigation, as warned by the Scottish Fiscal Commission, will likely fall disproportionately on Scotland, costing £1.1 billion annually.

Effective allocation of both public and private funds is essential in tackling climate strategies, and embracing peatland restoration as a legitimate offset method could be a beneficial step.

Peatland health is vital in the fight against climate change. The current focus and policies need to adapt to integrate peatland restoration more robustly into climate strategies. The economic and environmental benefits of such a shift are evident, but recognition and adequate investment remain the critical hurdles to overcome.

Unscientific Message

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) collaborates with around 5,000 companies worldwide, including major names like Tesco, Kellogg’s, and the BBC.

The organization’s primary focus is to guide these companies in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and, subsequently, investing in “carbon credits.” These credits support initiatives aimed at offsetting any residual emissions, often through projects like tree planting.

While this approach has its merits, it has recently sparked controversy regarding its stance on certain methods of environmental restoration.

A group of current SBTi participants, along with several charitable organizations, has raised concerns through a signed letter. The exact identities of these companies remain undisclosed, but their collective voice carries weight.

The letter criticizes SBTi for allegedly hampering global efforts to rehabilitate peatlands. It argues that the organization is sending investors a misleading message, suggesting that peatland restoration isn’t a valid solution to the climate crisis.

The critics urge SBTi to recognize peatland restoration as a legitimate means of offsetting unavoidable emissions. Among the prominent signatories is the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) UK Peatland Programme.

Dr. Renée Kerkvliet-Hermans, a peatland code manager, strongly advocates for the importance of peatland restoration. According to her, approximately 80% of the UK’s peatlands are currently degraded, releasing more carbon annually than all the country’s trees and forests can absorb.

Dr. Kerkvliet-Hermans expressed frustration, noting that potential sales of peatland carbon credits are falling through, partly due to SBTi’s stance. She emphasizes the critical role peatlands play in addressing climate change, a sentiment echoed by many in the environmental community.

In response, SBTi maintains that its principal goal is to push companies to first reduce greenhouse gas emissions before considering any counterbalancing measures.

They assert that they support the restoration of natural ecosystems, including peatlands, but stress that these efforts should augment, not replace, preventative measures.

This nuanced position attempts to balance immediate emissions reductions with long-term ecological restoration.

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