Peatlands cover approximately 10% of the land mass in the UK (and 20% of the land mass in Scotland). They are a natural carbon store and, in addition to providing a habitat for wildlife, they are considered to have the potential to play an important role in tackling climate change. As climate change continues to feature highly on worldwide government agendas, including those of Scotland and the UK, the focus on peatland management and its potential to assist has come to the fore.
Large areas of the UK's peatlands (approximately 80%) are in decline. Historically, peatlands were often drained for agriculture or forestry and this leaves them in poor condition. Rather than acting as a carbon store, peatlands in poor condition in fact release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
In addition to the carbon capture element, peatlands are also recognised as having the potential to be useful in a flood risk context, by trapping surface water that might otherwise run off into watercourses leading to downstream flooding.
The IUCN UK Peatland Programme was created in 2009 to promote the restoration of peatlands across the UK. The programme has set a target of 1 million hectares of UK peatlands being in good condition or under management by 2020. The programme now includes the Peatland Code which was launched in November 2015.
Recognising that without funding, landowners and managers simply do not have the resources (and often not the motivation) to tackle restoration, the Peatland Code seeks to link up landowners with private funding, providing an alternative (or addition) to the Scottish Rural Development Program (SRDP) funding available for peatland management.
At present, the Peatland Code is promoted to businesses providing funding as a corporate social responsibility measure but it may have the potential in future to form part of a carbon-offset system.
Currently large public and private sector organisations in the UK must, in terms of the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme, report their carbon emissions to the UK Government, and must buy (from the Government) ‘allowances’ for every tonne of carbon they emit. The CRC scheme is designed to promote energy efficiency within businesses and so does not include the ability to offset carbon emissions (e.g. some other schemes might allow investment in carbon capture schemes to be set against the emissions of a company meaning less allowances are required to be purchased). The CRC is due to be abolished in 2019 and it is not clear what (if anything) might replace it. However, global focus on climate change seems unlikely to wane and restoration of Scotland’s peatlands could well come to the fore in providing carbon capture potential.
Further information on the Peatland Programme and Peatland Code can be found here