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Shocking climate impact of wetland destruction in Indonesia


These figures that change the global picture on greenhouse gas emissions will be presented at the UN-climate Conference in Nairobi, Tuesday the 7th of November 2006.

The NGO Wetlands International and the Dutch research institute and specialist consultancy Delft Hydraulics have investigated the destruction of peatlands in Indonesia. Through the whole country, areas with peat were mapped, their status monitored and emissions of greenhouse gases investigated. The shocking outcomes reveal a global problem. 

Over the last decades, a silent disaster has been taking place in Indonesia and is increasing in magnitude. 
The marshy areas of South-east Asia used to be covered with millions of hectares of dense lowland rainforest. In the soaking wet soil, plant material decomposed very slowly. Over thousands of years, a thick layer of peat was formed, storing carbon equivalent to 100 years of current global fossil fuel use. Of these forests, only small patches remain intact; virtually none are unaffected. The global demand for hardwood, paper pulp and palm oil and local economic development are the driving forces behind the destruction. Areas are drained to enable logging of the swampy rainforest. After clearance, the drainage is intensified to a depth of 70 centimetres or more, to enable commercial production such as for palm oil.
Normally, peat is soaking wet and will not burn. Through drainage, the peat dries, starts decomposing, and emitting carbon dioxide. In the tropics this process takes place very rapidly and is often accelerated by fires. In Indonesia these fires cover millions of hectares and can last for weeks, sometimes even months, burning thick layers of peat over large areas.

New research shows the enormous impact of peatland degradation on climate change. Annually, in Indonesia 2000 million tonne of CO2 is emitted; 600 million tonne is caused by decomposition of dry peat (a process that will continue until all peat has disappeared) and 1400 million tonnes is lost through the annual fires.

These amounts change the global picture concerning carbon emissions. In the ranking of countries based on their total CO2 emissions, Indonesia comes 21st. However, if peatland emissions are included, Indonesia is ranked third. The country emits more than India, more than Russia, and several times more than the UK or Germany. It emits more than all the efforts of western countries to reduce greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol.

Emissions of peatlands are currently not calculated in official statistics. Therefore preventing these emissions does not count as a reduction of a country’s emission; unlike investments in industry. This means that the current Kyoto climate treaty does not provide any incentives for action. Wetlands International calls for the global donor community to assist Indonesia in addressing this problem.
See our article with figures on this issue ( PDF or Word-document)

For information on our activities in peatland protection in South East Asia, please visit our website dedicated on our Central Kalimantan Peatlands Project

Marcel Silvius
Wetlands International

For more information:
Alex Kaat
Communication Manager Wetlands International
+31 -(0)6 - 50 60 1917

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