Indonesia — The government should pay extra attention to the management of peatland to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says a science professor. Herwint Simbolon, from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI)’s Biology Research Center, said Friday that CO2 emissions released from peatland fires in Indonesia from 1997 to 2006 ranged between 1.4 and 4.3 Gt (Gigatons)annually. “The figures are equivalent to between 19 and 60 percent of annual global carbon emissions produced by the burning of fossil fuels,” Herwin said in a speech at his inauguration as a LIPI research professor in ecology and evolution. The critical function of peatlands in storing CO2 has been undermined for many years, resulting in among others, the then government’s One Million Hectare Peatlands Project (PLG) in Kalimantan back in the 1990s, which resulted in a massive conversion of peatland for agricultural use. The implementation of the policy led to an alarming rate of peatland deforestation, the new professor highlighted in his speech.
“The rate of deforestation in peatland areas from 1985-2000 was nearly twice that of mineral lands, namely 1.3 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively. After 2000, the rate increased to 1.5 percent. “As a result, the deforestation of peatland in Indonesia in 2005 constituted 25 percent of total deforestation in Southeast Asia,” Herwin said. The construction of 4,470 kilometer-long canals through the converted Kalimantan peatland, has led to severe drainage, massive fires and the release of huge amounts of carbon into the air in the late 1990s, he added.
Herwint asked the government to pay special attention to the management of peatland in the country, saying it would contribute significantly to the government’s target of cutting the country’s carbon emissions by 26 percent by the year 2020. “Because peatlands have been the source of most of Indonesia’s emissions, it’s only normal that to achieve its target, the government needs to pay special attention to the management of the lands.” Herwin added there had hitherto been no government regulation that could accommodate such needs, saying that existing regulations were outdated and failed to address the need to protect peatlands.
The 2009 regulation on oil palm even aims at converting peatlands into agricultural lands that are fit for oil palm plantations, he said. Besides Herwint, whose speech was titled “The Ecology of Indonesia’s Tropical Rainforests: Peat Forests and Global Climate Change”, there were two other research professors inaugurated by LIPI during the Friday ceremony. They were Enny Sudarmonowati, a research professor in biotechnology, and Made Sri Prana, a research professor in botany. Enny’s oration, titled “Molecular Genetics Approach in Tackling Agricultural and Forestry Issues”, addressed the need for genetic engineering, especially of plants to support Indonesia’s food security and reforestation policies.