WCS High-Integrity Peatlands Cross-Regional Initiative

High-integrity, or undegraded, peatlands have served as cooling systems for our planet by capturing and storing carbon for thousands of years. Today, they continue to remove an additional 370 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year, which makes them critical ecosystems for mitigating climate change.

WCS has formed an initiative with its relevant regional teams to protect the world’s priority peatlands. These regions are home to some of the most important carbon sinks on the planet. Working together, along with partners, Indigenous peoples, and local communities, we can make a difference in the fight against the climate crisis.

Our Work

WCS is working to protect peatlands globally, with on-the-ground work in priority HIP regions and countries.

These projects are in places like:

  • Pastaza portion of Pastaza-Maranon complex, Peru
  • Karukinka, Chile
  • Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
  • Hudson Bay Lowlands, Canada
  • Cuvette Centrale, Republic of Congo
  • Singkil Wildlife Reserve, Aceh

Country-program partnerships with Indigenous peoples and/or local communities (IPLCs) are a common feature of WCS HIP programs. As are partnerships with governments and research institutions.

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Only 3% of the planet’s surface is made up of peatlands, but 25% of this area is within Canada. Those areas are estimated to store 150 billion tonnes of carbon. That’s equal to 11 years of current global greenhouse gas emissions.

A Globally-Important Carbon Storehouse

We need to better quantify where peatlands are and which areas are at the highest risk of human-caused disturbance.

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The essential carbon service provided by northern peatlands

Proactive protection of northern peatlands must be a critical component of nature- based solutions for climate change, says paper in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

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A vital cost-effective approach to curbing Canada’s climate impact

Protecting and maintaining northern peatlands, which are huge stores and important sinks for carbon, is essential to meeting national and global climate targets.

Time to Start Paying Attention to Canada's Peatland

A huge part of Canada's northern geography, peatlands are critical to regulating our climate—and more, writes WCS's Meg Southee for Canadian Geographic.

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Story Map: Northern Peatlands in Canada

Indigenous leadership is essential in protecting northern peatlands in Canada, including the biodiversity and carbon.

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Opinion: Government must make the case for mining in the ring of fire

The success of mining projects depend on solid environmental assessments, write WCS's Constance O’Connor and Justina Ray for Northern Ontario Business

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Photo Credit: ©Lorna Harris

Hudson Bay Lowlands, Canada


There is a historical interest and effort by various stakeholders in Chile and Argentina to advance in the conservation of Patagonian peatlands, contributing from scientific knowledge, design and planning for the management of a rational extraction and the implementation of protected areas, and from the valuation of these ecosystems through education and art.

Story Map: Voices of Patagonian Peatlands

Get to know these enigmatic wetlands through the contemporary voices of those who share their territories.

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Watch: Workshop on Patagonian Peatlands

Watch this binational gathering that featured WCS Chile's Barbara Saavedra and more.

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Patagonian Peatland Initiative: conservation partnership for thriving peatlands

Watch this presentation from COP26 on PPI, a locally-based, multi-actor, multi-scale partnership with global implications in climate change mitigation.

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Turba Tol

Based on over a decade of eco-cultural cooperation in Tierra del Fuego, Turba Tol comes from the trans-disciplinary research practice of Ensayos and rethinks the role of art, creating growing communities oriented towards biodiversity conservation and coherent environmental actions.

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Congo Basin

The Congo Basin houses the world's most extensive tropical peatland complex. But there are questions about whether these carbon stocks are under threat and, if so, what can be done to protect them.

Photo Credit: ©Diego Perez

Pastaza portion of Pastaza-Maranon complex, Peru


Peru boasts peatlands from its Pacific coast all the way to the Amazon Basin, which is one of the largest peatland areas in the tropics. 28.2% of the Peruvian Amazon is made up of wetlands, with peat soils covering a total of 7,540 square kilometers, and recent studies have extended their known distribution by 61% within the Pastaza Basin.


What Are Peatlands?

Peatlands are freshwater wetlands that accumulate organic matter. They are often characterized by specialized forms of plant life and deep, water-logged soils.

Despite occupying a fairly small area of the planet, peatlands store a vastly disproportionate quantity of carbon. This carbon would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, worsening our climate crisis. Peatlands also absorb, filter and slowly release water, which regulates water supply and helps combat droughts and floods that have have become more common due to climate change.

Photo Credit: ©WCS Chile

Our best estimates indicate that peatlands globally store 600 billion tons of carbon, which is more than all of the carbon stored in all trees globally. This is also equivalent to roughly three quarters of the carbon remaining in known fossil fuel reserves and approximately 2/3 the amount of the carbon-dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere.

Degradation threats to high-integrity peatlands (HIP) include:

  • Infrastructure development
  • Mining/Extraction
  • Non-native species
  • Overharvesting
  • Fire
  • Permafrost thaw

In the News

The New York Times


Photo Credit: ©Lorna Harris

"The world’s richest countries should lead by example by protecting their own peatlands," writes WCS's Dan Zarin, "while also committing money to safeguard these landscapes in developing countries."

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