Indonesia — A coalition of civil society groups has demanded President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono take firm action to stop deliberately lit forest fires, which have affected carbon-rich peat lands in many provinces.
Greenpeace and WWF Indonesia said forest fires, which are a problem every dry season, continue to rage in Riau, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and Sulawesi.
In Riau, the forest fires have entered their third month but no concrete action has been taken by the government to stop them. We predict such fires will continue to increase this month, Zulfahmi, a forest campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
He said that most forest fires were lit on purpose to clear land for palm oil or paper plantations. President Yudhoyono needs to wake up to the climate crisis and take action by declaring a moratorium on deforestation, he said.
He said that Yudhoyono would be among eight key world leaders who have an historic opportunity to lead global efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change at a UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December.
To show his intent, the President should ensure a fire-free season this year and stop palm oil and paper companies from burning and destroying forests, he said.
Only then can the forest protection fund start to flow from developed countries to provide sustainable solutions to forests and people, encourage biodiversity and win the global battle against climate change, he said.
Greenpeace recorded 2,800 fire hot spots in Riau in July alone.
The peat land fires have a larger environmental impact than dry land fires, as they generate thick smoke and haze and emit a huge amount of carbon.
The clearing, draining and burning of peat lands emits more 3 billion tons of Carbon Dioxide per year, equivalent to 10 percent of global emission from fossil fuels, according to assessment on peat lands, biodiversity and climate change.
Peat lands store about 10 times more carbon per hectares than other ecosystems.
Zaulfahmi said that Greenpeace had deployed a 15-person team to work with local communities to stop the fires in Kuala Cinaku, Southern Riau.
But, we have only managed to contain fires in 10 hectares close to palm oil concessions, where fire recently claimed over 1,000 hectares of land, he said.
He said the Greenpeace firefighters were denied access to put of fires on concession land owned by various palm oil companies.
The WWFs coordinator of forest fires, Hariri Dedi, said that as of August 1, there were 705 fire hot spots across the country, including 186 in West Kalimantan, 175 in South Kalimantan, 123 in Jambi and 97 in Riau.
The amount of forest fires has been increasing at an alarming rate, he said.
As of July 17, the WWF has detected nearly 10,000 hot spots across the country, mostly in Riau and West Kalimantan.
A 1999 law made setting fire to forest land illegal. The crime carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and Rp10 billion (US$1 million) in fines of penalties.
But, the enforcement of the law is too weak, Hariri said.
Forest fires are an annual occurrence across the country during the dry season. In 2006, 145,000 hots pots were detected, making it the second worst season since 1997.