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Special - Spatial Planning and Energy for Communities in All Landscapes Town and Country Planning Association European Union

Knowledge Pool

Module 1: Climate Change and Sustainable Development

1.4 Preserving landscapes of carbon retention


Carbon sinks, nature protection, landscape conservation, fens, soil protection, sustainable forestry, ecosystem services


A carbon sink is a natural or artificial reservoir that accumulates and stores some carbon-containing chemical compound for an indefinite period. This is also known as carbon sequestration.

Fens, wetlands, forests and grasslands are natural carbon sinks which huge carbon amounts in vegetation, humous soils or peat body.

Protecting, developing and using these sites in a responsible manner can increase their potential to store carbon. Due to the practice of incompatible land uses, such as the extraction of peat, drainage, ploughing up of grassland, extensive withdrawal of biomass, greenhouse gases can be emitted. 

The future unsustainable development and use of these sites has the potential to increase the emissions of greenhouse gases and compromise the integrity of ecosystems serving as CO2-sinks

Climate friendly plans must seek to preserve carbon sinks, and protect them against destruction and decreased functionality through the unsustainable development of those sites (ecosystem services).

The protection of fens, wetlands, forests, and green spaces in general have diverse positive effects on the manner in which carbon can be extracted from the atmosphere and retained. Ensuring that these spaces are afforded sufficient protection by spatial planning is key to ensuring that these spaces continue to function as carbon sinks.

Existing spatial plans are capable of ensuring that these spaces are protected however, each state has varying strenghts and weakeneses and in terms of their effectiveness, there is a need to ensure that the varying ordinances in existence across the partner states are reviewed in order to ensure that they are sufficiently robust.

Regulations with relevance for carbon sinks on spatial planning level

1. Priority/reserve areas for

  • Nature protection and landscaping
  • Forest protection and extension

2. Formulation of spatial planning goals and principles primarily focusing on

  • Conservation and revitalisation of fens, exclusion / limitation of peat extraction, ban on ploughing grassland especially on wetlands and peatlands.
  • Soil protection (esp. fen and forest soils)
  • Focus controlling from compensation measures, preservation and development measures for forests, wetlands, and fen development
  • Requirements to take further planning measures on coming planning levels (expansion of additional areas with requirements on quality and quantity, developing concepts)
  • Addition / specification of requirements for locally compatible agriculture and forestry
Planning Relevant Details and Issues

Reserve areas, sites of environmental sensitivity, landscaping, forest protection etc are objectives which can be constituted within state spatial planning and at a lower level. At these levels, climate protection can directly be connected or objectives and goals aim at other fields of action which have positive side effects on climate protection. 

Landscape programs, landscape outline plans, and certain technical specifications (e.g. for forest or fen development) serve to outline and highlight specific geographical areas with a high value or potential for carbon sinks. 

Information on areas with current or potential importance for carbon sinks can be identified  soil maps for fens, meadows, gley soils and slack water soils. In addition land use maps (e.g. aerial images, basic maps) especially for areas of fens, forests and grasslands can assist in their location and protection. Further input can also be sought landscape planning and technical specifications as applied by appropriate professionals regarding nature, landscape and climate protection. Several regions have special fenland protection concepts as well as planning advises for the climate protecting relevance of land use, ecosystems and soils.

State spatial planningregional planning and municipal level planning are vital levels by which sites of carbon sequesteration can be realised. In this process results of current research for diverse climate impacts of various measures can be useful, considering the total sink potential of each soil and vegetation which may assist in the calculation of the total carbon sink capacity of these sites. 

In this regard, one focal point relates to multifunctional measures (synergies with biodiversity, landscape water balance, adaptation to climate change etc.). The aim is to define appropriate areas of high value with particularly high synergy potential and low potential of conflict of interests

The following measures, concepts and acts give orientation and targets for protection, preservation and promotion of natural carbon sinks as sites. 

Relevant sectoral legislation:

  • State and country conservation laws as well as state and country forest laws;
  • Legal instruments on biotope preservation e.g. protection of fens, certain types of forests and grasslands as part of the European protected areas system Natura 2000.

Federal government’s and federal state’s strategies and concepts:

  • E.g. national sustainability strategies and strategies on biological diversity including fen and forest systems (also on the basis of carbon sink capacity)
  • Stopping deforestation and promoting the transition towards a sustainable forestry including fen protection to save global climate
  • Bundling measures for a climate-compatible land use

Specific sectoral planning conceptions on relevant fields of actions:

  • National, regional and municipal sectoral planning on protection of nature, landscape and climate with concrete, also area-related and quantitative objectives, advises, requirements etc. concerning preservation / development of natural sinks (e.g. the “Concept on protection and use of fens” and the “Concept on forest development” by the German federal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania or the recommendations for action on protection of carbon sinks listed in the vulnerability assessment by the Western Saxony regional planning association).
  • From this status acquisitions into regional planning can be provided, subsequently concrete concepts and measures can be developed to the respective local conditions also for the municipal area level (in particular landscape plans).

Regional Plans

Regional plans which are being updated, should consider climate relevant requirements and put the protection of valuable natural areas in concrete terms. Spatial development plans can include guidelines which can give recommendations of action for the relevant region.


Guideline Forest extension and conversion

Negative climate impacts need to be reduced.  For this purpose the amount of forests has to increase in region (…), the forest has to be converted in a climate adapted way and fens have to be preserved.

Precept of climate protection

To reduce emissions of climate-acting gases and to bind them from the atmosphere is a sustainable use of low moors and reforestation of adequate areas considering the economic interests have to be aspired. Furthermore compensation and developing areas have to be designated on regional level where fens and humid grasslands are considered as focal points. And beyond this, under consideration of the related municipalities remedial designs for deep fens have to be worked out and implemented.

In addition to already approved peat extraction areas, which are priority and reserve areas for securing raw material deposits, new exposures are excluded as a rule beyond these areas.

Landscape planning

Landscape programs / landscape outline plans and landscape plans can summarize relevant information and also point out important areas concerning climate protection aspects in spatial planning.

Europe’s drained fens (in particular Germany, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia) are a source of concern with regard to greenhouse gas emissions. They are the second biggest global emitter following Southeast Asia. Annually Europe’s used fens emit approximately 80-130 Mt CO2-equivalents. 

Rendered reductions of emissions as an ecosystem service from fens (climate protection) are transferred into monetary values. It depicts the greenhouse gases’ costs of damage avoided in a monetary unit. 

Greenhouse gases’ costs of damage are the present value for the consequential losses of climate change, which is caused by an emitted unit of greenhouse gas (t CO2-equivalent). Costs of damage are calculated through an “Integrated Assessment Model”. In this process the climate system and its interaction with the socio-economic system are modelled in scenarios. The costs of damage are determined in dependence of different stabilization goals, greenhouse gas emissions and paths.

Several studies (e.g. Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change 2006) recommend a central estimated value of 85€ per t CO2 as marginal costs of damage for the calculation of public capital investments, especially in the energy and traffic sector (in a business as usual development).

Excursus: Carbon storage potential of fens and forest systems (through the example of Germany):

Annually 20 million tons of CO2-equivalents are emitted due to the agricultural use of fens (same magnitude as the reduction commitments, the German Energy and Industry concerns or households and traffic have to avoid in the period 2007-2012 following the National Allocation Plan).

The German Federal Environment Agency assumes a central value of 70€ per t CO2. This value should also be considered in the calculation of external costs of an unsuited use of fens. Annually 24 t CO2-eq. /ha are emitted due to cropland and grassland use. Consequently that causes external costs of 1.680€ per ha and year, which exceed the loss of use of displaced meat and milk production.

Considering the central estimated value of 70€ per t CO2 fens’ and forests’ ecosystem services as carbon storages make it possible to estimate also their economic importance.
A monetary approach can provide guidance in decision processes estimating costs and benefits of carbon emitting and carbon preserving usages of affected ecosystems.

Role of Municipal Planning


The main tasks to save natural carbon sinks on municipal resp. area level are local specifications of according land use plans as well as concrete actions in planning and implementation.

The determinations of land use, development objectives and concrete actions for natural carbon sinks on municipal or area level are carried out in urban land-use plans, landscape plans and protection area ordinances for protected parts of nature and landscape in accordance with the federal nature protection acts.

The identification of suitable areas and the conceptual consolidation of suitable measures like extensive farming, rewetting, ban on ploughing, cultivation constraints, new woodland, limitation of logging, preservation of deadwood, etc. have to be provided by landscape plans.

Demands and objectives for protection and development of carbon sinks

Identification of suitable areas and formulation of objective targets considering different required use.

1. Protection of comparatively intact ecosystems with existing large carbon reserves:
In particular prevention of extraction of peat, rewetting, ploughing, intensive agriculture, use of fens, humid grassland and other wetlands, avoidance of increasing logging in natural forests
>> Preservation of carbon reserves

2. Optimization, revitalization of degraded ecosystems with a (still) existing large carbon reserve:
Rewetting, extensification of grasslands, preserving soil tillage, if necessary new woodland on moorland or other hydromorphic sites, prolonged rotation periods / increasing of the age of the forest population in appropriate stocks.
>> Preserving carbon reserves and increasing of the carbon storage capacity

3. Revitalization of ecosystems on sites with large carbon sink potential
Recovery of cropland to extensive grassland resp. set-aside and rewetting, reforestation on suitable moorland or other hydromorphic sites, forest reproduction with site-appropriate species on different suitable sites.
>> Increasing the of the carbon storage capacity

Urban land-use plan’s main options

  • Keep areas free from settlement development by displaying areas of forest, agriculture and others (just excluding building wholesale), if needed with overlapping depictions to protect and develop natural carbon sinks
  • Define climate-friendly uses for relevant areas by overlapping depiction / drawing up measures to protect, maintain and develop soils, nature and landscape, or other depictions of open spaces with specific objectives or purposes underlining the importance for ecosystems and climate
  • Within the impact mitigation regulation and the mitigation bank regulations (so-called "eco-account") the urban land-use plan can directly affect on related areas with a high maintenance and development potential on natural carbon sink.
Social aspects

Areas like fens, wetlands, grasslands and forests do not only serve as carbon sinks. They also bear other ecosystem services, which directly affect human’s environment.

Firstly they contribute to a stable water balance which provides groundwater and therefore drinking water. In this context these areas also contribute to a pleasant climate as the evapotranspiration rate is high due to the water-saturated ground zone and its vegetation. Hence these areas have a cooling effect on their surroundings. Adjacent settlements benefit from this.

Additionally these areas are rich in structures; as a result that promotes directly the biodiversity and works as recreational environment which promote health maintenance in turn.