DebateInvestors beware: have an eye on peatlands

Investors beware: have an eye on peatlands

Reading time: 3:00min | Landscape conservation will become big business—inevitably.

Prof. Ibrahim Özdemir, an advisor to the UNEP, states: In Germany, almost 10 per cent of agricultural land is peatland; this, in turn, accounts for over 30 per cent of Germany’s agricultural emissions. In other European countries, drained peatlands contribute more than a quarter of total agricultural emissions.

That is undoubtedly the case, but agriculture’s share of greenhouse gas emissions is relatively low from a German perspective (and European)—the percentage of energy, transport, and industry is so high. If you remove a third of these 7.4% from agriculture, 2.5% remain for the peatlands. For politicians, that’s peanuts. But still about the share of domestic air traffic in pre-pandemic times, which was then in fact also peanuts, but emotionally the whole world.

For us, the question is: how do we sell landscape conservation as an essential contribution to climate protection in Europe, whose greenhouse gas emissions are shaped by fossil fuels on a large scale? In my opinion, the best way to do this is through the narrative of healthy nature as a substantial carbon sink. It is accurate and highly positive: healthy nature is our saviour in times of need.

How much CO2 absorbs nature in Germany? Because we do not yet have any verifiable figures for bogs, rough pastures or climate-healthy fields, it makes sense to look at forests. There, we know relatively well what is going on. An average forest in Germany can absorb about 6 tonnes of CO2 per year and hectare. In Germany, we have about 11 million hectares of forest, which is about 30% of the total area of Germany. If we multiply 6 tons of CO2 by 11 million hectares, the German forest absorbs, conservatively calculated, about 60 million tons of CO2 per year. Today, a tonne of CO2 is traded in the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) for about 50 euros.

It is easy to imagine that there will be more growth in the market in the future, especially when other sectors besides energy, some chemistry industries, parts of aluminium production and aviation within the EU will be part of the ETS system. Moreover, today’s 50 EUR per tonne is generally considered to be far too low. 150 EUR per tonne does not seem unrealistic.

Today, forests in Germany absorb about 7% of German CO2 emissions (it’s the same number for Europe). This share will steadily increase as the decarbonisation of the sectors through modern technologies progresses. And as they are gaining more and more significance for a carbon-neutral economy, their value alongside conventional wood production will grow.

Then the focus of policy will turn from renewables to agriculture because its current 7.5% share of nationwide greenhouse gas emissions will increase significantly. Before we know it, agriculture’s share of greenhouse gas emissions will be 30% or more. And then peatlands will be valuable because, if intact, they can absorb more CO2 than forests. How much more will still need to be researched. But we already know that it could be several times more.

In this context, it is worth recalling Ibrahim Özdemir’s assessment: almost 10% of Germany’s surface area are potential peatlands. Restored, this could become another German forest if the CO2 storage potential were the yardstick. That is why the renaturation of degenerated landscapes will become a big business. And possibly an attractive task for farmers who will have to reorient themselves in the necessary agricultural turnaround.

There’s only one obstacle left: carbon sequestration isn’t implemented in the ETS system yet. Arguments are what to do when forests burn, how to evaluate the correct individual carbon intake, etc. But in a capitalistic world, does it make sense to leave such an opportunity untouched?