More research, investment needed to protect Congo basin peatlands, finds report

Peatlands face threat from hydrocarbon exploration, hydroelectric dams & climate change

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Monday 19 September 2022
The Congo basic peatlands store 30 gigatonnes of carbon. Photo: OFAC

The peatlands in the central Congo basin require significant investment and more research to safeguard them, according to a new report. The peatlands face significant threats due to hydrocarbon exploration, logging, palm oil plantations, hydroelectric dams and climate change. 

The peatlands are located in both the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as the Republic of Congo, which are largely unprotected. 

The Central African Forests Commission, an intergovernmental organisation, came out with the report Congo Basin Forests - State of the Forests 2021 through its technical unit, the Central African Forest Observatory

Congo basin has the world’s largest tropical peatlands, discovered in 2017. Scientists estimate that these peatlands store carbon worth about 20 years of the fossil fuel emissions of the US. The basin is also rich in biodiversity and in minerals. 

Read more: Stay away from Congo’s ‘carbon bomb’ auction, Greenpeace urges Big Oil

Also known as the Cuvette Centrale peatlands, the world’s largest tropical peatland complex covers over 145,500 square kilometres. They store 30 gigatonnes of carbon in the peat, approximately equivalent to the above-ground biomass of trees in the entire Congo basin forest, according to the report. 

The two countries will require considerably more funding in the coming years to conserve these high-carbon and biodiversity-rich peatland regions from overexploitation and land-use changes, said the report. 

Relatively little is known about these ecosystems, including the activities of communities in the region, found the report. A large amount of investment in regional capacity is needed. 

Ongoing and expected future programmes provide some of the needed support. However, significant additional investment is required to support national governments and further interdisciplinary research into these important landscapes, the analysis said. 

Peatlands are formed due to the accumulation of partially decomposed plant remains over thousands of years under conditions of waterlogging.

Healthy peatland ecosystems are important to people, regardless of the place. They are important not just for their carbon but also for their crucial role in the storage and cycling of water and nutrients.

Peatlands provide drinking water, mitigate the risk of climate change and flood risk and secure the livelihoods of communities that live in these landscapes.

There are several international and regional agreements and conventions exist, such as the Ramsar Convention, the United Nations Environmental Assembly Resolution and the Brazzaville Declaration on Peatlands, with provisions for sustainable management of peatlands and their protection.

However, there is an urgent need to strengthen national institutions and frameworks for effective application and implementation of these agreements and commitments, the report said.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.