Peat is the surface organic layer of a soil, consisting of partially decomposed organic material (mainly plants), that has accumulated under conditions of waterlogging, lack of oxygen, acidity and nutrient deficiency. Peatlands, areas with at least a 20cm layer of peat when drained, are vast carbon stores, complex ecosystems and vital environmental ‘regulators’. Peat can be used as fuel for electricity and heat generation; as a horticultural and agricultural material that improves soil or a part of compost; or as a source of chemicals and medical products such as resins or antibiotics.

It is estimated that 3% of the global landmass is peatland, containing around 500 billion tonnes of carbon. Most of the peatland is situated in Russia, Canada, Indonesia and the USA. However, the main producers and users of peat are Finland, Belarus, Estonia, Ireland, Indonesia, Sweden and the Russian Federation.

It is estimated that peat’s carbon emissions are similar to that of other fossil fuels, particularly coal. However, it is not categorised as either a renewable or fossil fuel resource. The capability of peatlands to become ‘carbon sinks’, a way of storing used carbon, gives them climate change mitigation potential that does not exist for fossil fuel mines.