A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE OF PEAT EXPLOITATION IN EUROPE AND ITS SUSTAINABILITY
Foo-Yuen Ng, Yusof Basiron, Kalyana Sundram

Abstract
Availability of natural resources is instrumental in ensuring both growth and survival of a sovereign state’s economy and its population’s livelihood. As such, it is essential that natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable be managed sustainably. Natural resources can be found in a variety of forms and functions – including mining of rare earth and minerals, crude oil, forests and arable land for livestocks and agriculture.
Peatlands are one such resource and historically they have been excavated and exploited for fuel and used as arable land for agriculture and forestry. Peatlands also have vital ecological functions, such as supporting biodiversity and functions as a depository for carbon stocks.
The focus of this review is to look at how peat, especially in Europe has been exploited; literally fuelling its economy in certain cases. In addition to this, peat also played an important role in providing arable land for Europe’s forestry, agriculture and horticulture sectors. Some of these sectors have remained key pillars in Europe’s economy. For example, the Dutch horticulture sector is a €4 billion industry. In Sweden and Finland, peat is a vital cog in their energy supply chain.
However, in the process of exploiting any natural resources, it is inevitable that land use change and other environmental impacts would arise, especially if it is poorly managed. Thus, this begs the questions of its sustainability. It is especially critical now, as a growing body of scientific evidence, for example the IPCC (in 2007), have pointed towards land use change as one of the major contributors towards global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, thereby accelerating the detrimental effects of climate change.
In this review we estimate the amount of peat loss in this transition (when it was developed for the European countries’ economic wealth creation), as well as the GHG emitted during this period (which is still continuing to do so). A comparison is also drawn with the utilization of peatlands in developing countries, where it is driven primarily by the need to increase population living standards, and to eradicate poverty. The review shows evidence that Europe has also significantly contributed towards global GHG emissions as a result of its peatland development, and created better standards of living that currently may not necessitate further exploitation of its peatlands, compared to scenarios in developing countries.
26 February, 2016
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