Peatland conversions conditionally approved

Peatland conversions conditionally approved

19 February 2009

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Indonesia — The environment minister has approved the conversion of peatlands to oil palm plantations, if an environmental impact analysis (Amdal) is done.

State Minister for the Environment Rachmat Witoelar was responding to Tuesday’s issuance of a decree by Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono on the use of peatlands, despite strong criticism from environmentalists that the move could release more CO2 emissions.

“The conversion of peatlands is possible for certain criteria, but should be done very selectively,” Rachmat told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

“The conversion is strictly forbidden in [peatland] more than 3 meters deep.” Asked if the Agriculture Ministry had discussed the decree with the commission, Rachmat said, “No.”

Rachmat, who is also executive chairman of the National Commission for Climate Change, warned the conversion should also take into account the degradation rate in existing peatlands.

The commission was set up by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to coordinate climate change-related policies as efforts to cut emissions, and to help people adopt with the impact of global warming.

Indonesia has more than 20 million hectares of peatland, most of it in Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua islands. The deforestation rate of very deep peatlands reached 398,000 hectares per year in Sumatra between 2000 and 2005, data from WWF Indonesia shows.

In Central Kalimantan, peatland degradation is occurring in both shallow and deep areas at the rate of 20,000 to 25,000 hectares per year. As of 2000, about 2.5 million hectares, or 12 percent of the country’s total land area, was managed as forestry production concessions (HPH), 2.1 million hectares or 10 percent as industrial timber plantations (HTI) and 2.8 million hectares as oil palm plantations.

“More than a third of peatlands are already managed, of which 3 million hectares are degraded,” said Fitrian Ardiansyah, WWF Indonesia’s program director for climate and energy.

He added the government should focus on using idle land for the expansion of oil palm plantations. Opening up peatlands risks releasing huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. In 2007, the Agriculture Ministry issued a letter asking governors to stop the conversion peatlands into oil palm plantations.

On Wednesday, Greenpeace activists rallied at the Agriculture Ministry and called on President Yudhoyono to take action to stop forest and peatland conversions. The call was made as Yudhoyono was slated to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday to discuss, among other issues, climate change.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia forest campaigner Bustar Maitar said allowing peatland conversion would make the President unable to meet his pledge to cut CO2 emissions from the forestry sector.

“Allowing the destruction of more peatlands is a disaster for the fight against climate change, and will only confirm Indonesia’s status as the world’s third biggest polluter,” Bustar said.

“With the general elections coming up, the Agriculture Ministry’s plan is fishy, because it seems like an attempt to satisfy the country’s powerful paper and palm oil industries at the expense of the environment.”

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