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Restoration of tropical peatland to promote sustainable use of renewable natural resources

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A rescue package for tropical peatlands

Although less than 1 % of the world's surface, tropical peatlands contain 3 % of global soil carbon and are home to endangered species such as the orang utan. EU funding is helping to save and restore these valuable ecosystems.

Climate Change and Environment

Undisturbed tropical peatlands are significant carbon sinks and their destruction or destabilisation through human and climate-induced changes reduces the carbon store contributing to increases in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Moreover, once the associated forest is removed and the peat drained, the surface peat oxidises and loses carbon dioxide (CO2) rapidly. Progressive loss of the peat surface leads to local flooding and, on a global scale, further disruptions to the climate. Historically, development of peatland in south-east Asia focused on shallow peatland near the coast linked to small farmers. During the 1990s however, there was a surge of land use change for tropical peatland and large inland areas were used mainly for oil palm and pulp trees. To make matters worse, there has been an increase in illegal logging activities in tropical peat swamp forests. To address the consequent changes and issues regarding carbon balance, water management, biodiversity and poverty alleviation, the EU funded a major project involving 14 international partners from Asia and Europe. The 'Restoration of tropical peatland to promote sustainable use of renewable natural resources' (Restorpeat) project also aimed to restore tropical peatland and peat swamp forest. Restorpeat research achievements and recommendations centred around restoration of ecological and natural resources, hydrological integrity and impact on carbon fluxes. The effects of peat fires that release a huge amount of CO2 prior to land use change was also a pressing theme. Particular focus was also placed on social and economic issues including sustainable support for the livelihoods of local peoples. Dissemination of Restorpeat results included a book with 29 papers that covers a wide range of issues – from re-establishment of ecological functions to government aspects of restoration. Information has been distributed to all stakeholders including development funding agencies, international, regional and local bodies, farmers and the scientific community.

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