Leicester researcher to lead team tackling ‘carbon time bomb’

Leicester researcherto lead team tackling ‘carbon time bomb’

8 March 2007

published by www.24dash.com

Southeast Asia — Leicester researcher,Dr Susan Page as been awarded 458,000 Euros funding from the European Commissionto lead a project investigating ‘Carbon-Climate-Human Relationships of TropicalPeatlands’.

Dr Page, from the Department of Geographywill lead ‘CARBOPEAT’, an international project involving partners fromIndonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Holland, Finland and the UK.

She said: “These peatlands are carbon-dense ecosystems that are extremelyvulnerable to destabilisation through human and climate induced changes. 

“Located mainly in Southeast Asia, they store 50-70 billion tonnes ofcarbon (3% global soil carbon) but poor land management practices and fire,mainly associated with plantation development and logging, are releasing some ofthis carbon and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

“The CARBOPEAT project will identify key issues and critical gaps in ourunderstanding of tropical peatland carbon dynamics, analyse implications forpolicy, and formulate guidelines for optimizing the tropical peat carbon storethat can be understood readily by policy makers and decision takers in bothEuropean and Southeast Asian countries.

“It is anticipated that the project will contribute to future UNFCCC (UNFramework Convention on Climate Change) discussions on reducing global carbonemissions.”

At a kick-off meeting of the project partners held in the University ofLeicester, Dr Page said: “I have been involved in several research projectsinvestigating the ecology of tropical peat swamps, but with the CARBOPEATproject we now have the opportunity to present our findings to a wider audience. 

“Tropical peatlands are a globally significant source of carbon emissionsto the atmosphere.  Hopefully, through this project, we can promote urgentinternational action to enable Southeast Asian countries to conserve their peatresources better.”

Prof. Harri Vasander from the University of Helsinki, Finland agreed: “Nowis the time to utilise our research data to demonstrate how globally importanttropical peatland really is, especially in terms of its impact on the globalclimate. Over the last ten years many people have only been aware of thisecosystem when choking haze from peatland fires has engulfed Southeast Asia. We want to bring the value of tropical peatlands to the forefront of policymakers’ thinking, even after the peatland fires have died down.”

His colleague, Dr Jyrki Jauhiainen, also from the University of Helsinki, added:”The CARBOPEAT project can make an important contribution by informing landmanagers on the best ways to prevent further carbon losses”.

Colleagues from Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam will be organising several majorevents at which the profile of tropical peatlands will be raised. 

Prof. Bostang Radjagukguk, a soil scientist from Universiti Gadjah Mada, inYogyakarta, Indonesia, is preparing for the first project congress, which willbe held at the end of August this year; “We have just received informationthat the congress may be attended by the Vice-President of Indonesia.  Thisdemonstrates the high level of commitment that the Government of Indonesia ispaying to the environmental value of its natural resources, including peatlands.”

In 2008, the CARBOPEAT project will be organising a second regional congresshosted by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.  Representing his university,Professor Wan Sulaiman said: “We are engaged in a number of research andeducational activities to raise the profile of our country’s peatland resources.We look forward to hosting a major international event on the dynamics of thetropical peatland carbon-climate-human system at which we can investigate theopportunities for improved land management.

“Information disseminated through CARBOPEAT will not only provide valuableguidelines but also reinforce some of the initiatives undertaken by SoutheastAsian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia in the rehabilitation andrestoration of degraded peatlands. One exciting dimension is the commitment toincrease stakeholder awareness on how wise use and restoration effortscontribute to increased carbon sequestration that in turn will have a positiveeffect on global climate. It also brings to the forefront information on currentand future international conventions that can influence government policydirections on peatlands.”  

Dr Henk Wosten, from Wageningen University and Research Centre, said: “WithCARBOPEAT we are in an excellent position to propel the necessary actions sothat informed decisions on the management of tropical peatlands can be taken bypolicy makers.”

Detailed studies carried out by Dr Page and others over more than 10 years haveshown that tropical peat swamp forest has an abundance of plants and animals,including the endangered orang-utan, and that the peatlands perform a range ofvaluable services, such as water storage, flood prevention and carbon storage. 

The forest contains a number of valuable timber-producing trees plus a range ofother products of value to local communities, such as bark, resins and latex. 

Tropical peatlands are, however, being deforested and drained at a rapid rate. The problems that result from development of tropical peatland stem mainly froma lack of understanding of the complexities of this ecosystem and the fragilityof the relationship between peat and forest. In its natural state tropicalpeatland is a vast, globally-important carbon sink which locks away thegreenhouse gas CO2.

Once the carbon allocation to the system is discontinued by forest removal andthe peat is drained, the surface peat oxidises and loses stored carbon rapidlyto the atmosphere. This results in progressive subsidence of the peat surface,leading to flooding, and contributes to climate change.

The CARBOPEAT project will play a critical role in bringing this information toa wider audience by providing sufficient information and insight on tropicalpeat and peatland to enable stakeholders to understand this ecosystem and itsderivatives better, to anticipate problems before they arise and to putprinciples of wise use into effect.

It will bring together international peatland scientists, policy makers anddecision takers from the EU and DCs and other stakeholders in Southeast Asia toanalyse the problems and potential of peat carbon globally, with an emphasis onSoutheast Asia where most tropical peatland is located and the biggest problemsare occurring.

Professor Jack Rieley of the University of Nottingham, who has studied theecology and natural resource functions of tropical peatlands, said: “Peatswamp forests in Southeast Asia are one of the last wildernesses on this planetwith a large reservoir of biodiversity and carbon, both of which are beingdestroyed needlessly without producing socio-economic benefits.”

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