Peat extraction is operated under strict environmental licences issued by national environmental authorities. New environmental protection methods are continuously being researched and developed together with environmental authorities, research institutions and universities.
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. The climate impact from the combustion of energy peat over time can be substantially compensated for by after-treatment of the harvested area. This effect is most evident for high emitting peatlands (i.e. cultivated peatlands) but the effect can also be seen for forestry drained sites.
Both afforestation and rehabilitation/ restoration as forms of after-use have a potential to turn a peatland from a net source to a net sink of greenhouse gases after harvesting has ceased. Generally, afforestation will decrease the climate impact in a shorter time span than rehabilitation or restoration.
The use of peat together with wood fuels can lead to efficiency gains. Needles and bark contain impurities, which cause crust on the inner surface of the boiler. Crusting shortens the life of boilers and increases the need for cleaning. Problems arising from impurities can be effectively reduced by using wood and peat together.
The CO2 emissions of peat-fired power plants and heat boilers are controlled through the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
Peat Production and
Peatlands are rare in most European countries. Either there were none in the first place, or they were drained over time to serve the needs of agriculture, forestry and for settlements.
The situation is completely different in the EU countries that use peat for energy production, as they all have substantial peat areas. In Estonia, for example, peatlands account for 22% of the total land area, in Finland for nearly 30%, Ireland 17%, Sweden 16%, Latvia 10%, and Lithuania 10%.
Some peatlands have been drained in these six countries to create arable land or forests. One of the key principles of the Code of Practice for Responsible Peatland Management is that peat must only be produced in drained areas that, usually, have lost their nature value as a mire habitat. This ensures that peat production does not endanger peatlands in their natural state, most of which are also subject to separate conservation efforts.