Indonesia — A study by the government has recommended a moratorium on peatland conversion if the country wants to meet its pledged emission cuts to tackle climate change.
The study commissioned by the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) also proposes a land-swap scheme to relocate existing licenses in the peatlands, but not in other degraded forests.
Land swaps coupled with a revision of spatial planning to conserve unlicensed peatlands could contribute up to 37 percent in potential emission cuts, Basah Hernowo, the director of forestry and water resources conservation at Bappenas, told The Jakarta Post at the weekend.
Indonesia has around 21 million hectares of peatlands, mostly in Sumatra with 7.2 million hectares, Kalimantan with 5.8 million hectare and Papua with 8 million hectares. Most of the peatland in Papua is untouched.
The study predicted that peatlands contributed about 1 billion tons of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per year, or half of the countrys total emissions.
Under a business-as-usual scenario, the study predicted emissions from peatlands would contribute 1,387 million tons by 2025.
The utilization of the peatlands probably contributes less than 1 percent of GDP, yet accounts for almost 50 percent of emissions, Basah said.
The second phase of the study to assess economic aspects of peatlands will be conducted this year.
A number of plantations, industrial timber concessions (HTI) and forest concession holders (HPH) run business in the peatlands.
The Agriculture Ministry issued a 2009 decree allowing plantations to convert peatlands with a thickness of less than 3 meters.
Many said the decree was contrary to the ministrys letters to governors in 2007, asking local administrations to stop the conversion of peatlands into oil palm plantations.
Enforcing the law on existing forest and the plantation concessions operating in the peatlands could yield about 338 million tons in CO2 reduction, or 24 percent by 2025, he said.
Basah said the rehabilitation of peatlands and preventing fires could also cut about 430 million tons of CO2 emissions.
Indonesia has pledged to abate the countrys emissions by 26 percent by 2020, of which 14 percent will be cut from forest and peatlands.
The study said that emissions from peatlands were dominated by anthropogenic fire emissions, peat oxidation and the removal of above-ground biomass from deforestation and forest degradation.
The current emissions from the peatlands come mostly from Sumatra and Kalimantan, whereas Papua has extensive shallow peatlands that have the potential to increase Indonesias emissions if they are developed in the future, he said.
Forest campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia Yuyun Indradi, said the study should be made as a basis to cut emissions from peatlands.
The problem is poor law enforcement against those companies that have already converted the peatlands, he said.
Greenpeace has protested the destruction of peatlands in Riau, including in Semenanjung Kampar, which they say store around 2 gigatons of carbon, with peat layers of more than 15 meters.
The Bappenas study also recommended the need for effective institutions to overcome overlapping mandates on the management of peat and lowland areas in the country.
It also proposed the need to develop peatland carbon policies to attract financial incentives under the current Carbon Development Mechanism (CDM) scheme.