Act Now on Climate Change

Peatlands and and Its Role to Prevent Climate Change

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Peatlands play an important role to prevent climate change. Over the past 10,000 years, peatlands have absorbed an estimated 1.2 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide, having a net cooling effect on the earth. Peatlands are now the world’s largest terrestrial long-term sink of atmospheric carbon-storing twice as much carbon as the biomass of the world’s forests. (Parish et al., 2008). Predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) in 2020 of significant changes in global temperature and rainfall regimes have significant implications for peatland ecosystems. In many cases, the predicted changes are expected to harm peatlands and exacerbate the rate of degradation and release of stored carbon.

Peatlands cover 3% of the world’s total land area, but peat soils store 550 Gigatonnes of carbon or the equivalent of 30% of soil carbon, 75% of the carbon of the entire atmosphere, and the equivalent of twice the carbon storage of all forests worldwide (Joosten H. et al. al., 2008). Human exploitation has destroyed nearly 25% of the mud on Earth: of this destruction, 50% is agriculture, 30% forestry, 10% peat extraction, and 10% infrastructure development (Parish et al., 2008). One of the largest agricultural activities developing on peatlands in Indonesia is the establishment of oil palm plantations. Simultaneously replacing other forms of productive land use.

The development of oil palm has a positive impact on economic growth as indicated by growth in investment, output, and foreign exchange. Indonesia itself is the largest producer and consumer of palm oil in the world. However, in addition to obtaining economic benefits, the expansion of oil palm plantations has resulted in the emergence of several environmental problems. Farmers cut down rainforests that are hundreds of years old, to clear land for oil palm.

For example, what happened in the forests of Papua. Papua is the largest island in Indonesia with a permanent forest area of ​​31,773,063 ha. However, as much as 173.687 hectares of tropical rainforest there have been converted as oil palm land (Directorate General of Estate, 2020). Not only in Papua, several other large islands such as Kalimantan and Sumatra are also affected by this oil palm expansion. Of concern is the fact that in almost all cases, all forms of agriculture and plantation forestry follow forest degradation, which presumably is initiated by logging and aggravated by wildfire. The effect of the expansion of oil palm plantations can increase carbon emissions and climate change so that it can disrupt environmental conditions (Chelsea, Julia, and Searle, 2016)

Papua has the largest peatland area in Indonesia, which is 7 million ha, followed by the islands of Kalimantan and Sumatra (BB R & D SDLP, 2008). So you can imagine how much carbon emissions are caused by burning forests for this purposeful industrial development. Emissions from peat oxidation represent 48% of total emissions (Agus et al., 2017). However, additional emissions from existing plantations operating on peatlands have dominated the global emissions profile.

Damaged peatlands contribute about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from the land-use sector. CO2 emissions from drained peatlands are estimated at 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 annually. This is equivalent to 5.6% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Fires in Indonesian peat swamp forests in 2015, for example, emitted nearly 16 million tonnes of CO2 a day. This is more than the daily emissions from the entire US economy (IUCN, .2017). The Source of CO2 largest Indonesia comes from (Agus et al., 2017):

  1. Above Ground Carbon (AGC) due to forest degradation with 226 Tg (teragram) of CO2 per year (40%) between 2000 and 2005; and 277 Tg CO2 per year (41%) between 2006 and 2009/2010.
  2. Peat oxidation from disturbed swamp forests and shrubland; our model showed these emissions decreased between the second and third temporal periods from 161 Tg CO2 per year (29%) to 152 Tg CO2 per year (22%),

The type of land-use change is shifted emission preexisting to the palm oil sector

Based on a study conducted by the University of Gottingen by Sabajo et al. (2017), found the oil industry triggers an increase in the surface temperature of the soil. Based on scientists’ observations between 2000 and 2015 in the city of Jambi, forest conversion made the average surface temperature increase by 1.05 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, when compared to the ground surface temperature in forest locations, it only increased by 0.45 degrees Celsius. This shows that at least 0.6 degrees Celsius of the 1.05 degrees Celsius increase is due to land-use change. As a result, the soil surface will absorb solar radiation and molt faster. Soil surface temperature is an important part of the microclimate in the area that affects the habitability conditions for plants and animals (Sabajo et al., 2017). This can lead to water scarcity in the dry season and impact biodiversity.

In 2017 the European Union passed a resolution on palm oil and deforestation of the rainforest. The ultimate goal is to ban imports of palm oil that are not compatible with sustainable development and its derivative products by 2020 to the European Union (Mark et al. 2018). This periodic forest burning has a significant global effect, which increases greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. In addition, environmental impacts can also come from waste from the palm oil industry for its processed products. Currently, the FSC (boardForest Management Certification) is said to continue to work with the palm oil industry managers to jointly reduce land clearing and take environmental conservation countermeasures.

So, what do you guys think about the palm oil industry?

This series of the blog is part of Act Global Project of Act Now on Climate Change. We will be portraying how climate change is affecting us and what is need to do to prevent it from worsening.  Act Now!

Written by: Kurnia Wardhani M.J

  1. Agus, Fahmudin, Petrus Gunarso, Bambang H. Sahardjo, Nancy Haris, Meine v. Noordwijk, and Timothy J. Killeen. 2003. “Historical CO2 Emissions From Land Use and Land Use Change from the Oil Palm Industry in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea.” Report from The Technical Panels of the 2nd Greenhouse Gas Working Group of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) 2:65-88.
  2. BB Litbang SDLP (Research and Development Center for Agricultural Land Resources). 2008. Annual Report 2008, Consortium for Research and Development on Climate Change in the Agricultural Sector. Bogor: BB R & D SDLP.
  3. Boer, Rizaldi, Dodik R. Nurrochmat, M. Ardiansyah, Hariyadi, Handian Purwawangsa, and Gito Ginting. 2012. “Reducing Agricultural Expansion Into Forests in Central Kalimantan Indonesia,” Project Report. In Center for Climate Risk & Opportunity Management. Np: Bogor Agricultural University.
  4. Chelsea, Petrenko, Paltseva Julia, and Stephanie Searle. 2016. Ecological Impacts of Palm Oil Expansion in Indonesia. Washington, USA: International Council on Clean Transportation.
  5. Directorate General of Plantation. 2020. Palm Oil Area by Province in Indonesia, 2017-2021. =repo&fileNum=229.
  6. IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). 2017. Peatlands and Climate Change: Issues Brief. Switzerland: IUCN Issues Brief.
    IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2020. Climate Change and Land : Summary for Policymakers. N.p.: IPCC.
  8. Joosten H., F. Paris, A. Siri, D. Chapman, T. Minayeva, and M. Silvius. 2008. Assessment on Peatlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change: Main Report. first ed. Kuala Lumpur & Wageningen: Global Environment Center and Wetlands International.
  9. Mark, Barthel, Jennings Steve, Schreiber Will, Sheane Richard, Sam Royston, 3Keel LLP, James Fry, Yu L.
  10. Khor, Jullian McGill, and LMC International Ltd. 2018. Study on Environmental Impact of Palm Oil Consumption and Existing Sustainability Standards: For European Commission, DG Environment. Luxembourg: Publication Office of the European Union. DOI:10.2779/530224.
  11. Parish, Faizal, Andrey Sirin, David Lee, and Marcel Silvius. 2008. “Introductions.” In Assessment on Peatlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change: Main Report, 1-6. 1st ed. Kuala Lumpur and Wageningen: Global Environment Center and Wetlands International.
  12. Sabato, Clifton R., Guerric l. Maire, Tania June, Ana Meijide, Olivier Roupsard, and Alexander Knohl. 2017. “Expansion of Oil Palm and Other Cash Crops Causes an Increase of The Land Surface Temperature in the Jambi Province Indonesia.” Biogeosciences 14 (October): 4619-4635.