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Russia’s plan to mine peatlands for energy could release 113 gigatons of carbon

Wetlands International, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving the world’s wetlands, has warned of drastic environmental consequences if the Russia government goes ahead with plans to begin large scale peat mining, including the potential release of 113 gigatons of carbon.

Peat mining for energy “causes much larger carbon dioxide emissions than fossil fuels, will ruin precious nature and disrupt the hydrology of large areas,” writes Tatiana Minaeva from Wetlands International.

Large-scale plans for exploitation of the country’s massive peatlands was recently announced by Konstantin Alekseyev, director of the Department of coal mining and peat industry of the Russia’s Ministry, on the ministry’s website.

Currently carbon emission from Russia’s peatlands are 100 megatons per year (only 0.1 percent of Russia’s energy use), however with 1.4 square kilometers of peatland, containing 47 percent of global peat resources, Russia could potentially release 113 gigatons of carbon from peatland mining if all peatlands were drained. Such emissions would comprise fifteen times the annual global carbon emissions.

Russia should “develop only small scale mining for local use in remote areas and to only allow techniques that limit the impact on the landscape and allow natural regrowth, such as ‘wet’ peat extraction to limit the extraction to small areas were also deep layers are mined instead of large surfaces. In addition, mined areas should be restored by ending drainage,” Minaeva writes.

Wetlands International further warns that peatland ecosystems in Russia are extremely sensitive to disturbance, saying that any impact is “often ten times the size of the area of the activity itself”.

Currently third (as of 2006) in the list of highest carbon emitters behind China and the United States, Russia’s president recently announced that it would lower its carbon emissions by 10-15 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. However, this actually means Russia plans to raise emissions, since emissions were far higher in 1990 before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The announcement means Russia will allow emissions to rise by 2-2.5 percent every year until 2020.

Ireland and Finland have the world’s highest percentage of energy generated by draining peatlands.

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