Saturday, September 03, 2005

Largest ever single release of carbon dioxide; it's in Indonesia.,2763,1562016,00.html

David Adam, environment correspondent of the Guardian, 3 September 2005, tells us about the largest ever release of carbon dioxide and it's not from the USA. It's from Indonesia.

We are talking about up to 2.7bn tons of carbon dioxide, the largest single release since records began, and equivalent of up to 40% of annual global emissions from burning fossil fuels.

How did this happen?

Indonesia's government has tried to turn Borneo's (Kalimantan's) peat swamps into rice plantations. This means annual fires.

Susan Page, a geography researcher at the University of Leicester, says that annual fires caused by peatland drainage 'were releasing enough carbon dioxide to swamp worldwide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions agreed under the Kyoto protocol'.

She called for international action to reflood the peat swamps in Central Kalimantan province, which were drained by the dictator General Suharto in the mid 1990s and now catch fire each dry season.

Fires in the region in 1997 released up to 2.7bn tons of carbon dioxide, the largest single release since records began in 1957, and equivalent of up to 40% of annual global emissions from burning fossil fuels, Dr Page told the Royal Geographical Society's meeting in London.

She said: "Tropical peatlands are vast stores of carbon that have accumulated over thousands of years. In a matter of months, peatland fires can liberate 1,000-2,000 years' worth of carbon.
"The situation can only get worse. We need to stop the fires, and the best way is to re-wet the landscape."

At the current rate of burning, the peat swamp's entire carbon stocks, built up over 27,000 years from forest litter too wet to rot, will be released into the atmosphere by 2040.

Dr Page said the environmental problems caused by the massive smoke clouds each year had got international attention, but the scale of the carbon emissions had not.

Many of the fires are started deliberately by locals to clear land for agriculture, but they spread rapidly out of control.

The swamp drainage also threatens the survival of Borneo's estimated 7,000 orangutans, the largest single population in the world.

Suharto's project, called Mega Rice, was to convert more than a million hectares of peat swamp into rice fields.

Barely a grain was ever produced. The uneven ground made irrigation impossible and the soil proved too acidic, as the few local experts willing to speak out against Suharto's plan had predicted.

Dr Page said: "People just don't understand peatlands and don't understand wetlands, as we've seen with the situation in New Orleans. People have a misguided impression of our abilities to manipulate natural ecosystems."

1 comment:

Films4Conservation said...

Update on the Bornean Border Plantation

The megaplantation that is currently being proposed, funded by Chinese investors, has now doubled in size to roughly 3,300,000 hectares...

Meanwhile the Indonesian government recognises that it needs to rehabilitate 56,000,000 ha of degraded forest. Around 25,000,000 ha of land is totally destroyed and palm oil cultivation here would actually help restore hydrology, bring work to destitute local people who lost all forms of income when their forests were cleared. It would also interupt the new annual burn cycle that puts the alang alang grass fields up in smoke, and poses risks to surrounding forests...

Its all a bit crazy. Meanwhile good forest is being cut down for conversion to plantation - providing an innitial 40% windfall in timber revenues, and much valued up fornt cash, since the plantations will take about 4 years to turn a profit.

6,000 orangutans a year are being lost out of a combined total of about 60,000 (including the Bornean and Sumatran species).

Money, money, money... and it is crazy because it would not cost us, the end consumer, that much more if we pushed for sustainable palm oil, a product found in 1 in 10 supermarket products in the UK now.

So... what is to be done? Well everyone needs to be asking their supermarkets to take responsible action. We also need to ask our governments to provide some help to companies who are going to be responsible, because this damn free market is obviously going to favour those who have these early profits...

Come and find out more, and see some of the work we're doing on palm oil and orangutans:

We're looking for keen campaigners, people who will spread the word, write articles, blogs, letters. It really is a critical time for the orangutan, and the millions of people who's livlihood is threatened by the total land clearance brought about by plantation development, have a look at our photo albums to see some of the extent of the damage.

Please drop us a line if you can help,

Nick Lyon,
Director, Orangutan Film Protection Project

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