The Irish Times view on the end of peat extraction: a careful transition

It is vital now that the company heeds the reservations, expressed by leading peatland experts, about aspects of its new strategy

 

Bord na Móna announced this month that it is ending all peat extraction. This follows hard on the December decision by the company, in partnership with the Government, to “rehabilitate” 33,000 hectares of its bogs, degraded by peat mining, for climate and biodiversity benefits. The company says this marks a “transformation from a traditional peat business into a climate solutions company”.

This is an historic shift for a company that has played vital roles in supplying our domestic and industrial energy, and in maintaining our social fabric through the employment it generated, over eight decades. The nation owes a big debt to Bord na Móna for demonstrating the benefits of well-directed, large-scale public investment. It is welcome that significant numbers of jobs are being maintained under the new strategy.

No-one knew, in the early decades, that peat-mining was a key driver of climate change. Very few people appreciated the unique biodiversity of peatlands, much less that biodiversity loss was an existential threat.

As these issues became major public concerns in the early 2000s, an innovative Bord na Móna ecology team showed that some degraded bogs could be fully restored, to the point where they would sequester carbon again. Others could be rehabilitated to climate-friendly wetlands, alive with biodiversity, where degradation had gone too far for restoration.

However, the company was, until recently, extremely reluctant to accept that the climate and biodiversity emergencies demanded that peat extraction had to stop altogether, and that restoration and rehabilitation were required on a landscape scale. Credit is due to advocacy groups for driving the company towards its current transformation through a series of landmark challenges. It is vital now that the company heeds the reservations, expressed by leading peatland experts, about aspects of its new strategy. The greenhouse gas “budgets” of various options need to be much more carefully assessed, as do the biodiversity impacts of its solar and wind energy projects.

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