My second COP26 speech: Dialogues towards a European peatlands initiative


Below is the text of my speech that I delivered at the Dialogues towards a European Peatlands Initiative event at the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 on 12/11/21.


Good morning everyone,


I want to welcome you all to this important discussion on how we can support and enhance meaningful collaboration across Europe in order to maximise the positive outcomes for all our peatlands management programmes.


The protection, conservation, restoration and rehabilitation of the world’s peatlands are an essential component of the global response to climate change and biodiversity loss. Healthy peatland ecosystems sequester and store carbon, provide habitat for wildlife, filter water and help to mitigate flooding. But they also provide valuable recreational amenities that bring communities together, and inspire a sense of wonder in all who visit them.


Ireland has the best examples of raised bog habitat left in Europe, and also the largest extent of upland blanket bog. We have a special responsibility to conserve and restore these special habitats, which are so deeply intertwined with our cultural, social, economic and natural histories.


Since Neolithic times, over 5,000 years ago, people have lived in and worked on the bogs of Ireland. Today, many Irish people have childhood memories of time spent out on the bog, and as awareness of their value has increased in recent years, more and more of us – myself included – have found new joys in, on and around them: from feeling the peat of a raised bog quake underfoot and noticing the tiny lichens, wild blueberries and sundews among the flora, to admiring the broad vista of an upland blanket bog coating a hillside.


In Ireland, our newly-published National Climate Action Plan and legally-binding target of a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030 has brought an unprecedented sense of urgency to our efforts to take action for these special habitats, building on work already underway:


· Ireland is rehabilitating over 33,000 hectares of post-industrial cutaway bog as part of our Enhanced Decommissioning Restoration and Rehabilitation Scheme, following the cessation of large scale harvesting for electricity generation. This scale of this scheme, funded by the European National Resilience and Recovery fund, is of European significance.


· Through its National Parks and Wildlife Service, Ireland is also restoring much of the raised bog habitat designated as Special Areas of Conservation under the Habitats Directive and those protected under national legislation. The results to date of this work are very positive and are stimulating new peatland management projects.


· Meanwhile, the EU LIFE-funded Raised Bog Restoration Project, ‘The Living Bog’, has restored raised bog habitat across twelve raised bog Special Areas of Conservation and is exceeding its original target to improve the condition of 2,649 hectares of raised bog.


These are just a few examples of the work in progress across Irish peatlands. My colleague, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Pippa Hackett, will share more with you later about how Ireland’s work on peatland restoration and rehabilitation interacts with the agricultural sector. And while these examples do represent significant progress, we have a much more to do and to learn from our friends and colleagues across Europe.


I am delighted to see so many European colleagues here this morning and look forward to hearing the numerous developments and advancements that are being made in their countries to further the conservation and management of our European peatlands. It’s vital that we work together to elevate our national efforts and achieve our shared vision for these habitats across Europe. It’s urgent that we do.


This event will give us the opportunity to learn from each other and share our knowledge and experience. There are a number of key questions that I would like to explore today through our conversations:


1. Firstly, what can we learn from each other to enhance and support our work?


Across Europe there are many peatlands projects producing innovative work on peatlands including amongst others Carbon Connects, Care-Peat, Life Peat Restore, the REPEAT project and CANAPE, along with the ongoing work of Ramsar and Wetlands International, that have been developing and piloting techniques, technologies and business models to sustainably restore, re-wet and manage our peatlands. How can we best share our learnings?

2. Secondly, how can we work together more effectively to pool resources and create synergies?


I look forward to hearing the presentations by the numerous experts here today on peatlands and their views on the future outlook for peatlands across Europe.


I expect that there are many opportunities for cross collaboration. For example in Ireland, the LIFE Integrated Project Peatlands and People will create a Knowledge Centre of Excellence as regards peatlands restoration and rehabilitation. While this Centre will operate as a national hub for Irish scientists and experts, perhaps we should also consider how such a Centre could be expanded with input and contributions from our European colleagues who have developed their own expertise in this field, such as the world-renowned Greiswald Mire Centre.


3. Thirdly, what shape should these efforts take?


With so many challenges surrounding good peatland conservation, and with our shared ambition and determination to achieve success, it is important that we build on the current exchanges of knowledge and expertise in this field by working together to exponentially increase the benefits of each country’s individual efforts.


I look forward to the discussions today, in the spirit of positive co-operation and discovery, as we work together towards to achieve our shared ambition for peatlands and for climate action.


Thank you and I look forward to our discussions today.