Protect your peat, EU project urges governments

 Protect your peat, EU project urges governments

21 September 2007

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Southeast Asia — Participants at an international symposium have urged South-East Asian governments to protect their tropical peatlands.

The meeting, which was held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, was organised in the framework of the EU-funded CARBOPEAT (Carbon-climate-human interactions in tropical peatlands: vulnerabilities, risks and mitigation measures) project. The 200 participants included scientists, politicians, legislators, land managers, government representatives, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community groups and the private sector from Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and 13 other countries.

‘The meeting acknowledged that the tropical peatland of the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] region contains a globally important store of terrestrial carbon estimated to be about 60% of the total tropical peatland carbon store,’ said CARBOPEAT project coordinator Dr Sue Page of Leicester University.

The release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is not the only consequence of badly managed peatlands. ‘Inappropriate or poorly managed development of tropical peatlands and fires on them impact on local and regional biodiversity, the natural resource functions of the remaining peat swamp forest, and the livelihoods and health of local people,’ explained Dr Page.

In a statement adopted at the end of the meeting, participants urged regional governments to ‘promote responsible management of peatlands, based on an ecohydrological approach that should prioritise the protection of high conservation value peat swamp forests, including semi-pristine and logged-over forests, and the rehabilitation of deforested, degraded peatland areas’.

The statement sets out recommendations to help the region protect the peatlands’ carbon stores and biodiversity while developing a productive, socio-economically beneficial agriculture/forestry which will have a minimal impact on the peatlands.

The system involves conserving the remaining areas of peatland which are still in pristine condition, and restoring land which has undergone lower levels of degradation. Land which has been repeatedly logged should be actively rehabilitated by planting local species, preventing fires and allowing the water table to recover. This land could then be used sustainably by the local community. Finally, land which has been degraded so severely that it cannot be rehabilitated could be converted to another land use, such as carefully managed plantations.

As one of the main threats to tropical peatlands is fire, the symposium also recommended the implementation of fire-fighting strategies and the establishment of dedicated fire-fighting teams which have a regular income.

The recommendations also call for action from the wider international community and other stakeholders such as businesses. ‘The Yogyakarta international symposium and workshop encourages investment by all interested parties, including international governments, donor agencies and the private sector, in the conservation, rehabilitation and restoration of tropical peatland, and the improvement of existing peatland management practices by promoting wise use, including participatory management of this ecosystem in partnership with local communities,’ the statement reads.

‘Tropical peatlands are carbon-dense ecosystems that are extremely vulnerable to destabilisation through human and climate induced changes,’ said Dr Page. ‘We recommend urgent international action to enable [South-East] Asian countries to implement improved management of their valuable peatland resources.’

The aim of the CARBOPEAT project is to collate information on the threats to tropical peatlands and formulate recommendations for governments and others on how best to manage this vital landscape. Meetings such as the one in Indonesia form a part of this strategy. A similar meeting will be held in Malaysia next year.

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