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CREAFTalks: Hans Joosten

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

"The peatland pathway to 2050"


The Paris Agreement has made the world simple. We have one common goal: to limit global temperature rise to clearly below 2o. The physical consequence is, that we have to reduce global net CO2 emissions by 2050 to 0 (zero). This ‘0 for all’ implies that sectors cannot hide any longer behind others (“I am too important to reduce, so others have to do more”) and that after 2050 transferring emission reductions from one sector/company to the other (“offsetting”) becomes impossible. Furthermore, the goal has to be reached “…in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty”. The challenges are thus enormous, also for peatlands, which are currently responsible for 5% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions and which could precipitate a runaway greenhouse effect when their global stocks of over 500 Gt of Carbon, mainly in the Northern circumpolar region and in the tropics, are mobilized by inadequate management.

The peatland pathway to 2050 implies the complete fading out of the fossil resource ‘peat’ and of drained peatland use. For peat as an energy resource, cost-effective alternatives are available and rapidly being further developed. For growing media, promising new alternatives are being prospected, whereas substantial reduction must initially be achieved by shrinkage of lower-quality markets, such as hobby gardening and garden and landscape care.

The fading out of drained peatland use is not only necessary from the perspective of climate change mitigation but also urgently for climate change adaptation, including the stopping of coastal land subsidence, the cooling of the regional climate and the buffering against more unstable weather conditions. As the growing demand for biomass implies that the 500,000 km2 of drained peatlands worldwide must largely maintain their production function, peatland agriculture and forestry must rapidly advance the development of paludicultures.

The physical complexity of permafrost peatlands and the significant potential risks of their degradation and disruption require a more holistic multi-disciplinary approach to research, land-use planning and management, to cope with the complex relationships between soil carbon, hydrology, permafrost, vegetation, and people.


Hans Joosten (1955) studied biology and worked as university researcher and policy officer (Ministry of Agriculture) in the Netherlands. Since 1996 he leads the Department of Peatland Studies and Palaeoecology of Greifswald University (Germany), partner in the Greifswald Mire Centre, since 2008 as an Extraordinary Professor. His department studies peatlands in an integrative way at the crossroads between palaeo-ecology, ecology, landscape ecology, nature conservation and wise use. He produced 600 publications, of which 80 in ISI-listed journals with an h-index of 38 (Google Scholar).

Key research topics of his department are paludiculture, on which he edited the first handbook in 2016, and peatland restoration on which he edited an overview for Cambridge University Press in 2016.

Since 2000 Hans is Secretary-General of the International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG), the world organization of peatland conservationists. For IMCG he produced the books ‘Wise use of mires and peatlands’ (2002) and ‘Mires and peatlands of Europe’ (2017).

Since 2009 Hans has been intensively involved in UNFCCC negotiations and IPCC guidance development, especially with respect to accounting for emissions from organic soils, and in FAO in advancing climate-responsible peatland management. Since 2017 he is steering committee member of the Global Peatlands Initiative.

In 2010 Hans Joosten received an Honorary Doctorate of the University of Batumi for his efforts in studying and protecting the mires of Colchis (Georgia). In 2013 he was awarded the European CULTURA Prize for Sustainable Land Use, and the Research Award Sustainability of the German Federal Government. In 2014 he was elected as foreign member of Det Kongelige Norske Videnskabers Selskabs Akademi, the oldest learned academy of Norway. In 2018 “his” International Peat Mapping Team won the $1 million Indonesian Peat Prize.

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