Current Articles | Search | Syndication

Only funding can end emissions from degraded peatswamps


The Indonesian government acknowledges in Copenhagen that forestry and agriculture in peatswamp areas causes extreme carbon emissions, with just very limited economical revenues. Only a rapid development of a financial incentive such as REDD is able to protect and restore the remaining peatswamp forests.

Degraded peatlands contribute to almost 50% of Indonesia’s GHG emissions; yet development in peatlands probably contribute less than 1 % to the national economy (GDP).

This the firm conclusion of the National Planning Agency of Indonesia (Bappenas) in a study presented in Copenhagen[1]. Annual revenues of 1 billion in the Indonesian peatlands cause emissions of 900 Mton carbon dioxide per year.

Peat soils: real carbon stock

Tropical peatswamp forests in Indonesia contain per hectare 124-195 ton C in their above ground biomass. But it is their organic peatsoils that contain the real carbon stock: 2850 ton C per ha[2]. The loss of soil carbon due to drainage of normally wet organic peatsoils causes gigantic emissions per hectare or per USD. Turning peatlands into pulpwood or oil palm plantations is the first thing to avoid when combating climate change.

Despite legislation to control conversion and logging, the last remaining peatswamp forest of Asia are increasingly converted to agriculture and plantations, further enhancing the already huge emissions from degrading peatlands. 

Control emissions from peatsoil drainage & loss

A climate policy like REDD that provides incentives to just control the vegetation loss will not be able to control the huge emissions due to peatsoil drainage and loss. This week, a deal on REDD may credit protection of the above ground biomass only. In this scenario, the largest part of the emissions from Indonesian deforestation and degradation of (former) forests remains unaccounted.

Moreover: crediting also plantation forests will lead to a rapid conversion and drainage of logged peatswamps, to plant acacia or palm oil. This would – instead of reducing emissions - lead to even further emissions from peatsoils.


More information / photos:

 Alex Kaat

Wetlands International

+31 (6)50 60 1917



see other site: “the Merang case”


The case of Merang in South Sumatra Province (Indonesia)

Every hour, gigantic barges full with freshly cut logs pass the Merang River in the Merang peat swamp forest in South Sumatra. The plantation area of the logging company Sinar Mas includes several conservation zones, but parts of these appear to have been clear-felled. Upstream the peatswamp forest area is supposed to be protected, but illegal loggers are floating kilometers long rafts of illegally cut trees downstream. Although it would be easy to control illegal logging and transport of illegal logs on this river, no action has been taken by the authorities.

Photo: Sinar Mas Merang, a conservation zone being impacted (click to download)

This area is one of the last forested areas in the peat swamps of South Sumatra. Just 15 years ago, the peatswamp forests of Southern Sumatra, Jambi and Riau were largely intact. As long as the logging canals (dug for transport of logs) continue to drain the peat swamp the remaining forest and dried out peat will be at great risk for fires and the remaining vegetation will be unable to recover. Almost every dry season, peat fires rage through the areas, causing alarming air pollution and emissions of around 400 Mton carbon dioxide a year.

The dry season is now called the fire season. In vast areas of the former peatswamp forests drainage systems have even been intensified for oil palm and pulpwood plantations, leading to even larger emissions per hectare.

Photo: A raft with illegally logged trees from Merang (click to download)

Companies like Sinar Mas and APRIL keep on pushing for new concessions. Promoted as deals to combine logging with conservation zones like in Merang, companies keep on trying to also take the last remaining pockets of rainforest. In other areas, such on Kampar Peninsula in Riau province, they have started to claim “Rehabilitation Concessions”, in which the remaining natural forest will be converted to plantations and for which they would even propose to receive REDD credits!


It is clear that only a commercial alternative that will pay for maintaining the natural peat-carbon stocks can triggger an end to their demise. Without this, within a few years no peatswamp forests will be left outside of protected area systems. Currently all peat swamp forests (including protected areas) are affected by illegal logging and drainage, and irretrievable carbon stocks are being lost. However, it should be very clear that REDD money should not reward the conversion of forest into plantations.



[1] Reducing carbon emissions from Indonesia’s peat lands, Bappenas, Republic of Indonesia, December 2009

[2] Parish et al, Global Peatland Assment, 2006; p.100

Press contact

Communications and Advocacy Department