Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post, JAKARTA | Fri, 03/06/2009 9:37 AM
Peatlands for palm oil: Peatland is drained to make way for the cultivation of oil palms in Central Kalimantan. Indonesia is home to the world’s largest peatland areas. Scientists have warned that peatland reclamation could increase the release of carbon emissions stored in its area, leading to the worsening of global warming. (Courtesy Of The Indonesian Peat Land Association)
Indonesia suffers an estimated US$1 billion in potential losses each year from the release of carbon stored in its tropical forests’ peatlands, a study has revealed.
Mitsuru Osaki, a professor at Hokkaido University’s Graduate School of Agriculture in Japan, said the potential losses were due to poor management combined with the massive opening of peatlands for agriculture, such as in Central Kalimantan.
“If we convert it to the price of carbon, Indonesia loses about $1 billion annually, equal with the release of 0.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide [CO2],” he said Thursday on the sidelines of an international conference on carbon management in peat forests in Central Kalimantan.
Asked about the peatland condition in Indonesia, Osaki, involved in a study on peatlands in Kalimantan from 1997 to 2007, said it was “terrible, with no management of peatlands.”
Osaki, together with a team of 16 Japanese scientists, will conduct another five-year study to calculate the total carbon in the country’s peatlands.
The study will be jointly conducted with Indonesian scientists from the State Ministry for Research and Technology, the National Standardization Agency (BSN), the University of Palangka Raya, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) and the Indonesian National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan).
Tropical peatlands — including swamps and forests found in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Amazon lowlands and central Africa — are estimated to reach 42 million hectares and contain 148 gigatons of CO2.
Rising levels of CO2 emissions add to the greenhouse effect, thus increasing the temperature in the atmosphere, widely blamed for climate change effects.
Bambang Setiadi, chairman of the Indonesian Peatland Association, told the conference Indonesia had about 27 million hectares of peatlands, mostly in Kalimantan, Sumatra and Papua.
“Indonesia’s peatlands store between 10 and 32 gigatons of CO2,” he said.
The depth of the country’s peatlands ranges from 1 to more than 12 meters. About 42 percent of the peatlands are more than 2 meters deep, with deposits of 77 percent of total peat carbon.
Bambang, who is also BSN chairman, said deforestation and repeated forest and peat fires significantly contributed to carbon release.
“Fires have become the most dangerous threat to Indonesian forests and peatlands in the past 15 years,” he said.
Studies show peat deposits in Southeast Asia could be wiped out by 2040 due to fires.
Bambang added that up to 0.6 gigatons of carbon released into the atmosphere in 2006 were due to peat fires.
He said carbon release from reclaimed peatlands could not be avoided. However, improved land management could lower the peat carbon loss rate.
LIPI peatland scientist Herwint Simbolon said the building of canals in peatlands would only accelerate the release of carbon.
“The fact is, carbon release is far higher than storage in peatlands, because the use of canals has sped up carbon release,” he said.
The government is currently drafting a presidential decree on peatland management, in a bid to cut CO2 emissions from peatlands.
Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono issued a ministerial decree last month to allow oil palm companies to expand into peatlands with a depth of less than 3 meters.
A report in 2006 from Wetlands International said Indonesia’s peatlands emitted around 2 billion tons of CO2 a year, far higher than the country’s emissions from energy, agriculture and waste, which together amounted to 451 million tons.
This places Indonesia as the world’s third largest CO2 emitter after the United States and China.