Engineers may describe a soil as peat which has a relatively high percentage of organic material. This soil is problematic because it exhibits poor consolidation properties – it cannot be easily compacted to serve as a stable foundation to support loads, such as roads or buildings.

...the most widespread of all wetland types in the world, representing 50 to 70% of global wetlands. They cover over 4 million square kilometres [1.5 million square miles] or 3% of the land and freshwater surface of the planet. In these ecosystems are found one third of the world's soil carbon and 10% of global freshwater resources. These ecosystems are characterized by the unique ability to accumulate and store dead organic matter from Sphagnum and many other non-moss species, as peat, under conditions of almost permanent water saturation. Peatlands are adapted to the extreme conditions of high water and low oxygen content, of toxic elements and low availability of plant nutrients. Their water chemistry varies from alkaline to acidic. Peatlands occur on all continents, from the tropical to boreal and Arctic zones from sea level to high alpine conditions.

PEATMAP is a GIS shapefile dataset that shows a distribution of peatlands that covers the entire world

Use of peat for energy production was prominent in the Soviet Union, especially in 1965. In 1929, over 40% of the Soviet Union's electric energy came from peat, which dropped to 1% by 1980.

In a peat profile there is a fossilized record of changes over time in the vegetation, pollen, spores, animals (from microscopic to the giant elk), and archaeological remains that have been deposited in place, as well as pollen, spores and particles brought in by wind and weather. These remains are collectively termed the peat archives.

Peat has a high carbon content and can burn under low moisture conditions. Once ignited by the presence of a heat source (e.g., a wildfire penetrating the subsurface), it smoulders. These smouldering fires can burn undetected for very long periods of time (months, years, and even centuries) propagating in a creeping fashion through the underground peat layer.

In June 2002, the United Nations Development Programme launched the Wetlands Ecosystem and Tropical Peat Swamp Forest Rehabilitation Project. This project was targeted to last for 5 years, and brings together the efforts of various non-government organisations.

In November 2002, the International Peatland (formerly Peat) Society (IPS) and the International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG) published guidelines on the "Wise Use of Mires and Peatlands – Backgrounds and Principles including a framework for decision-making". The aim of this publication is to develop mechanisms that can balance the conflicting demands on the global peatland heritage, to ensure its wise use to meet the needs of humankind.

In June 2008, the IPS published the book Peatlands and Climate Change, summarising the currently available knowledge on the topic. In 2010, IPS presented a "Strategy for Responsible Peatland Management", which can be applied worldwide for decision-making.