Text and photos by Hans von Sonntag | 10.05. 2023
At the LIFE Peatland Platform in Berlin from 26 to 28 April 2023, Paul Leadbitter (Northern Pennines AONB) and Dan Hird (finance consultant) gave gripping insights on bringing the private sector into peatlands rewetting and restoration. As it turned out, ESG is the main driving force behind that.
The field trip of the last day was about a NABU restoration project at the Biesenthaler Becken, Brandenburg, Germany. This project involves various peatlands spots with challenging surrounding habitats.
Since the beginning of the new millennium, CSR has long been the preferred tool to showcase a company’s compliance as a responsible citizen (Corporate Social Responsibility). But with the two-fold climate and nature crisis, the term greenwashing tainted the image of CSR, as it became a story-telling marketing tool, lacking objective measures. Today, companies are shifting from CSR to (broadly) correct ESG scores to address the apparent changes in society’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) systems and the accusation of greenwashing.
The second day’s venue building is close to the Berlin Main Station.
As climate warming needs fast action to mitigate incidents like wildfires, draughts, and flooding, reducing the emission of climate gas is an obvious action. Although companies are already improving their footprint in the scopes one to three (direct emissions, indirect emissions connect to energy/utilities, indirect missions like travel and other services), the need to offset carbon emissions is highly in demand. This is where carbon offsets from ecosystem services could come into play.
A peatlands meadow at the Biesenthaler Becken.
Degraded peatlands emit large amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG). Rewetting them stops much of the emissions. The delta of these emissions, described as tons per hectare and year, can be sold as a carbon offset certificate. The owners of such carbon offsets are the landowners of the respective rewetted peatland. To measure the saved emissions accurately and to mitigate the risk (e.g., peatland fires, unreliable landowners, or offset buyers), a trustworthy organisation behind the carbon offsets and a certified measure protocol are needed.
Dianna Kopansky, the Global Peatlands Coordinator of the Global Peatlands Initiative, UN Environment Programme, gives a keynote to the audience on the importance of peatlands for biodiversity and the battle against climate warming.
The National Trust for Scotland, in collaboration with the UK National Committee of the IUCN, is the licensing body for the Peatland Code (PC). It validates the code through ISO 14064-3 and 14065, which quantifies, monitors, reports and verifies GHGs in an internationally acclaimed norm. This guarantees corporations the value and integrity of their investment. As the minimum running time for PC-eligible projects is 30 years and the risk is addressed by a 15% deduction of a project’s GHG into the Peatland Code Risk Buffer, plus the standards of an eligible project are very high, the Peatland Code could serve attractively for a company’s ESG needs.
Alas, the demand is low, and so is the price. For reference, the 15-25 pounds you’d pay for a one-ton PC certificate isn’t remotely in the ballpark of European ETS carbon credits (in March, they hit the 100 euro mark).
Paul Leadbitter (Northern Pennines AONB) talks to Karen Nunan (NEEMO), who facilitated the Peatland restoration in EU and national policies, financing peatland restoration working group.
Why is that? First, landowners may be lured into the idea that waiting for a more substantial carbon market is clever. Paul Leadbitter states that this issue is real, leaving degraded peatlands unrestored. Second, there are traditional, proven and competitive alternative uses of peatlands, such as grazing cattle and sheep pastures or providing hunting grounds for grouse-shooting tourists (some areas in the Great North Bog). Third, buying carbon offsets from peatlands restoration projects is relatively new to corporations and has yet to be a proven alternative despite the high quality of the Peatland Code.
Black alder tress growing on wet peatland soil at the Biesenthaler Becken.
How does all of that make sense in a European context? As the Peatland Code is designed to deal with specific UK peatlands needs and only applies there, it cannot be transferred to the continent. However, there’s a similar code in Europe, the German Moorfutures. But compared to the UK, the Moorfuture projects are considerably smaller. The ongoing project Königsmoor II has a size of 28 hectares. Other already sold-out projects are around 10-90 hectares. The price per future is 75 euros per tonne, a market-oriented price.
Leadbitter and Hird identified unfavourable subsidies for farming on peatlands, other uses, and reservations on the buyer and seller side as the main hurdles. On the continent, the Common Agriculture Programme (CAP), with its strong incentive to drain peatlands for agricultural use, is the obvious obstacle to the rewetting of peatlands. With these subsidies in place, large-scale rewetting remains largely a mission impossible. 95% of German peatlands are degraded and in agricultural use, amassing 5% of Germany’s CO2 budget. Go figure.