Indonesia — Indonesia has jumped to third place from 21st behind the United States and China as the world’s top contributor of greenhouse gasses because of its clearing and burning of peatland areas, a conservation group and research institute say.
A recent investigation by the Netherlands-based Wetlands International and Delft Hydraulics has revealed that huge areas of wet peatland forests are being drained, burned off and logged in Indonesia, contributing massive amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
“Recently calculated emissions of greenhouse gases unexpectedly reveal that Indonesia has the third-largest emissions of the world,” said Marcel Silvius of Wetlands International, a non-profit group whose backers include 60 governments and 15 conservation groups.
The study shows the country is failing to achieve targets in the Kyoto Protocol, which it has signed and ratified.
Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar acknowledged the country’s problems and noted the government had launched new programs that took into account peatland and haze problems.
“We have evaluated all our programs to tackle haze, including those to conserve peatland areas. We plan to raise canal levels in many areas, while requiring people’s participation at all levels,” he told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
Rachmat said Indonesia would also bring its problems to Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia Summit in Cebu, Philippines, in December to ask for financial help.
The joint study shows that during the last few decades, emissions from Indonesian peatlands when drained or burned, reached 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year — almost a 10th of world greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.
The amount exceed emissions from India or Russia and are almost three times German or British emissions on an annual basis.
United States’ emissions reach almost 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide while China emits over 4 billion tons.
Indonesia emits 6.5 times as much CO2 from degraded peatlands as it does by burning fossil fuels every year, while it produces more gases than all the efforts of western countries to reduce greenhouse emissions under the protocol.
The international community, however, has overlooked the importance of these problems because it focuses on gasses from fossil fuel emissions, Wetlands says.
Silvius said as the figures would change the global picture on greenhouse gas emissions, which Wetlands would present at the UN-climate Conference in Nairobi on Tuesday.
Peat is undecomposed plant material that has accumulated over thousands of years, storing carbon equivalents equal to 100 years of current global fossil fuel use.
Normally, peat is soaking wet and will not burn. Through drainage, the peat dries, starts decomposing, and emits carbon dioxide. In the tropics, this process is now taking place rapidly and is often accelerated by fires. In this country, peat fires can cover millions of hectares and can last for weeks, sometimes even months.
Specialists from Wetlands and specialist consultancy Delft Hydraulics have mapped, monitored and investigated the country’s peat areas.
They concluded that over the past decade, a silent disaster has been taking place here and is increasing in magnitude.
The global demand for hardwood, paper pulp and palm oil and local economic development are the driving forces behind the destruction, the agencies say.
The two organizations are calling on global donor community to assist the country to address the problem by including CO2 emissions from peatland degradation in climate change mitigation and establishing a special financing mechanism to restore peat areas.
Experts have warned that greenhouse emissions, the main cause of global warming, could cost the world trillions of dollars in the damage it causes through increased sea levels, flooding and bad weather.