Below is the text of my concluding remarks and panel session response that I delivered at the Dialogues towards a European Peatlands Initiative event at the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 on 12/11/21.
Panel session question: What could be the next steps for a European collaboration?
While there are still significant knowledge gaps, a number of research projects in Ireland and across Europe are consolidating the science around how best to manage peatlands in terms of biodiversity and the appropriate hydrological measures required to reduce carbon emissions from our farmed, forested and extracted peatlands. These projects work with, and can act as catalysts for new peatlands projects and possibly allow for the scaling up of existing projects through increased efficiencies.
This ongoing further development of technical expertise and up-skilling amongst practitioners is essential to build capacity across Europe and to deliver improved management of peatlands. It will aid the acceleration of rehabilitation work on European peatlands which in turn will contribute to attaining carbon-neutral goals by 2050.
By sharing all of our work and experience on peatlands, through different forums with the scientific community, existing peatland projects, institutions, governments, landowners and communities across Europe we can enhance the interfaces between science, policy and practice and move towards a positive outcome for peatlands across the continent.
It is up to those countries in particular that are privileged to hold significant areas of peatlands to shape any future European Peatlands Initiative. We must agree together the process of its development, structure and organisation, and governance while taken into consideration the board range of stakeholders’ needs.
I see any such initiative as, firstly, a network between countries that can create a co-ordinated approach towards positive action for peatlands. The main goals of this network would be agreed upon by all parties but it would have to provide support for sustainable development, climate and biodiversity goals. To begin with it will need a roadmap or memo of understanding which will set out the functions and activities of the network. Over time, this network would grow and evolve and will need to be responsive to the needs of partners.
Any such network or European initiative must work in tandem with, and not competing against, existing national initiatives and networks. It should have achievable goals and tangible outputs with each country working at a national level to improve the sustainability of peatland management through restoration and the development and adoption of sustainable peatland strategies and action plans. Ireland, like others, has more to do in this regard but I am hopeful that with the support of European neighbours we can all learn, support and adapt as needed for the betterment of peatlands.
We are all here today at this dialogue because we see value in our peatlands. To some that is its biodiversity value, its climate mitigation contribution, as a source of economic support or its intrinsic link to our cultural past, amongst others. Globally however, these values are not yet fully realised, and achieving the status of sustainably managed and intact peatlands is still an aspiration in some countries rather than a fully developed and financed plan.
For those countries that are on the right paths for a better outcome for peatlands, after what we have heard over the last two weeks at COP26, this journey must now proceed with a sense of urgency. We must continue to map, monitor and assess. Policies can be adopted and adapted for more efficient and effective peatlands conservation, restoration and sustainable management as new evidence and work practices emerge We can look at alternative models of investment for peatlands restoration like we are doing in Ireland. To those countries who are at the start of their peatlands management programmes we can offer our experience and technical assistance.
In this the UN Decade of ecosystem restoration the time is right to build momentum for the conservation of peatlands. With Europe’s new Green Deal and the setting of ambitious emissions reduction and restoration targets , awareness and enthusiasm for environmental and climate related action has never been higher.
This Peatlands Pavilion, which has hosted a multitude of conversations amongst like minded international experts, Government officials and numerous stakeholders from across Europe and beyond over this week, have brought significant awareness to peatlands.. My hope is that we can harness the positive energy and momentum created over the past two weeks and through new and existing initiatives work towards an alliance between European countries who are ready to take action for peatlands.
By working together, we can make collective knowledge and experience available and enable more conservation projects. The first step, as Minister Hackett outlined, in any future pan European peatlands initiative is to set out a clear approach to establish the fundamental needs of the various stakeholders.
As an initial step, I am offering to host in Ireland the first forum to discuss the shaping of such a European peatlands initiative in early 2022. This will hopefully be the first of many forums as we can work towards building a network between our respective countries.
At this Forum we could set out how a memo of understanding or roadmap could act as a springboard to shape the functions and activities of any collaboration. Ireland can work on an initial outlook of this in advance that can be used to stimulate and drive discussions in such a Forum.
In conclusion t is very clear that peatlands restoration and conservation offer a nature based solution to biodiversity loss and climate change and can aid in a just transition for people and communities. This message must be promoted and shared widely.
On a final note, I wish to thank the UN Environment Programme and the Global Peatlands Initiative, and all its partners and supporters for creating such an impressive global platform for peatlands here at COP26. It has put peatlands as a key nature based solution in the heart of the climate discussions.
Thank you to our moderators Cisca and Harm and to all our speakers and contributors today.
I wish you all a safe journey home from COP26 today and I look forward to seeing you and others next year. As we leave here today please reflect on what can be achieved if we collaborate more. Remember that alone we can only do so much but together we can do so much more.