Indonesia ‘failing on pledge to reduce forest fires’


The Indonesian government failed to live up to its promises to reduce fires across the tropical nation last year, reports Mongabay.com.Take Cover library picture

It quotes The Jakarta Post as saying that the nation’s 2009 State Environment Report revealed a 59% increase in the number of fire hotspots from 19,192 in 2008 to 32,416 last year.

Officials are reported as saying that land clearing was the primary cause because, unlike temperature forests, intact rainforests rarely burn naturally.

“Illegal land clearing with fires by local people in Kalimantan and Sumatra is still rampant,” Heddy Mukna, deputy assistant for forest and land management at the Environment Ministry told the Post.

The state of Kalimantan on the island of Borneo saw fires triple in some areas from 2008 to 2009.

Haze blanketed much of the island last year during the “burning season”.

In 2007, the Indonesian government announced plan to cut forest fires in half to mitigate climate change from 35,279 fires in 2006.

The government has since revised that reduction from 50% to just 20%.

Indonesia is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world behind China and the US.

An estimated 80% of the nation’s 2.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions is from rainforest and peatland destruction.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 13/06/2010

Amazon forest fires ‘on the rise’


The number of fires destroying Amazon rainforests are increasing, a study has found.

Take Cover library pictureThe BBC’s Mark Kinver reports that a team of scientists said fires in the region could release similar amounts of carbon as deliberate deforestation.

Reporting on a paper published in the journal Science, Kinver says the researchers found that that fire occurrence rates had increased in 59% of areas with reduced deforestation.

As a result, the rise in fires could jeopardise the long-term success of schemes to reduce emissions from deforestation, they added.

The researchers – from the University of Exeter, UK, and Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research – based their findings on satellite-derived data on deforestation and forest fires.

“The results were a surprise because we expected that fires would have decreased with the decrease of deforestation,” said co-author Luiz Aragao from the University of Exeter.

“The implication for REDD is that we first need a system that can monitor fires,” he told the Science journal.

“There is also a need to shift land use in the Amazon to a system where fire is not used.”

‘Slash and burn’

REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) schemes aim to create a financil value for the carbon stored in developing nations’ tropical forests.

It offers nations incentives to protect forest areas from a variety of impacts that release carbon into the atmosphere, including tree felling and logging, agricultural expansion, land degradation.

As deforestation accounts for about 20% of emissions resulting from human activity, the REDD programmes are considered to be a key component in the global effort to curb climate change.

“Fires following drought years are likely to release a similar amount of carbon as emissions from deliberate deforestation,” the researchers wrote.

“The higher probability of a drier Amazon in the 21st Century predicted by some global circulation models… may push Amazonia towards an amplified fire-prone system.”

They added that previous studies showed that fires in the region increased after large-scale droughts in 1998 and 2005.

“Forest landscapes in Amazonia are becoming more fragmented and, therefore, a growing proportion of forests is exposed to the leakage of accidental fires from adjacent farms,” they suggested.

The practice of “slash and burn” is widely used by farmers in the Amazon region to clear secondary forests and allow food and cash crops to be cultivated.

But Dr Aragao said: “We need to change the way people use and manage their land so that they can do this without fire.”

Commenting on the paper’s findings, Andrew Mitchell, director of the Global Canopy Programme, said: “These results have important implications for REDD negotiations.

“If we are to control deforestation, you have got to look at what local people are doing outside of the forests,” he told BBC News.

“The entire REDD regime need to encourage a better use of land without fire.

“But if they do not use fire, which is cheap, then what are they going to use – strimmers? Chainsaws? Tractors?

“That means that money from REDD programmes need to go to people that not only live within the forests, but also the farmers living outside them.”

Dr Aragao agreed, adding that switching to fire-free land management in already deforested area that lie next to forests could “drastically reduce fires and carbon emissions”.

“It would be expensive,” he observed, “but it would protect the stability of Amazonian carbon stocks and diversity.”

Pieter van Lierop, a forestry officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FA) – a member of the UN’s REDD programme, said the findings were relevant to policies aimed at reducing deforestation.

“The article clearly demonstrates that within REDD, specific attention should go to analyzing the role of fire and propose more responsible use of fire and/or alternatives for fire,” he told BBC News.

“However, we should also take into consideration that the article is mainly discussing fire incidence and occurence, meaning number of fires and not the size of emissions.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 06/06/2010

Forest fire emissions ‘poisoning Arctic environment’


Forest fires and straw and stubble burning in North America and Eastern Europe are leading to record-high concentrations of the environmental toxin PCB over the Arctic island of Svalbard, a report warns.

Take Cover library imageOver the past decades, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been found in large concentrations in Arctic areas.

These substances accumulate in living organisms and are enriched throughout the food chain.

Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) is one of the most important environmental toxins of this type.

“We wanted to draw attention to the causes of the environmental impact in the Arctic and trace the sources of the problem,” said Sabine Eckhardt, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU).

When biomass from trees and dead grass and leaves catches fire, it releases both PCB and other environmental toxins and creates yet another source of PCB emissions.

In 2004 and 2006, big fires ravaged these areas. About 5.8m hectares of coniferous forest burned down in North America, while Eastern Europe experienced extensive emissions from agriculture due to straw and stubble burning.

Several weeks later, the researchers found record-high values of PCB in the atmosphere above Svalbard.

“As far as we know, this is the first study that shows a connection between the burning of biomass and PCB concentrations in the atmosphere far away,” said Sabine Eckhardt.

“With a climate that is constantly changing, we expect the extent of such fires to increase.

“In such case, it also means that the fires may represent an increasing environmental problem in the Arctic.

“That in turn will reduce the effect of the international agreements that aim to reduce emissions of these environmental toxins,’ said Ms Eckhardt.

PCB is a group of synthetically-produced persistent toxic compounds., and can be stored in the fatty parts of the organism and accumulates in the food chain.

Humans, fatty fish and carnivores (such as polar bears) can therefore accumulate concentrations in their bodies that are so high that they are poisoned.

As the primary emissions of organic environmental toxins are reduced, the researchers believe that fires caused by climate change will become more important.

They point to the fact that there has been little focus on the significance of burning biomass, and the potential consequences of this for the Arctic environment.

“For the first time, we have proved that burning biomass is also an important source of persistent organic pollutants in polar areas,” Ms Eckhardt observed.

“This can be of great importance to international agreements that aim to protect the environment in Arctic areas.”

Source: The Research Council of Norway

Date: 31/05/2010

Study links forest fires to climate shift


A warming climate will fuel larger, more frequent wildfires in the Sierra Nevada and other parts of the West, and the fires will contribute to climate change, according to a new study reported in Insurance Journal.

More than 20 international scientists, in the report published in the journal Science, said fire is not only a consequence of climate change but an important cause.

“Fire also influences the climate system. This is what we call a feedback,” Jennifer Balch, a fire expert at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Scientists determined intentional deforestation fires, many set in tropical areas to expand agriculture or ranching, contribute up to a fifth of the human-caused increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas helping to boost global temperatures.

The researchers called on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to fully integrate fire into its ongoing assessment of climate change.

Fire-climate feedbacks, they said, have been largely absent from global climate models.

“Extraordinary (fires are) occurring like a rash all over the planet,” said David Bowman, a forestry and wildlife expert at the University of Tasmania.

Fire of unprecedented ferocity swept across parts of Australia in February, killing about 200 people.

Similar fire activity can be expected elsewhere as the climate warms, including in the Sierra, where a 2007 blaze at Lake Tahoe destroyed 254 homes, scientists said.

“We are witnessing an increasing amount of so-called megafires,” said Thomas Swetnam, an expert on fire history and forest ecology at the University of Arizona. “Unfortunately, I think we are going to see more large fires in the western United States. The western United States is in a bull’s-eye.”

Swetnam was involved in a 2006 study that indicated increased fire activity is associated with increasing spring and autumn temperatures and an earlier spring snowmelt in western mountains.

That study found that wildfire frequency spiked to nearly four times the average experienced from 1970 to 1986, with the area burned more than six times previous levels.

The average length of the fire season increased by 78 days between 1987 and 2003 compared with 1970 to 1986, with fires starting earlier and burning later into the season.

Source: Insurance Journal

Date: 30/04/2009

Wildlife flee Kenyan forest fires


Hundreds of thousands of flamingos and other wildlife are at risk after five forest fires erupted in Kenya on Saturday, say wildlife officials.

The BBC News website reports that police say they suspect some of the still-raging blazes were started by communities to make space for farmland.

The fires have had an adverse effect on the Masai Mara and in Tanzania on the Serengeti national park, officials say.

Other wildlife reserves are under threat, including Lake Nakuru, which is home to almost a million flamingos.

According to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), all the rivers that drain from south-western Kenya’s Mau forest into the lake have dried drastically.

Nearly 60 species of wildlife, including white rhino, depend on the lake.

By Sunday an estimated 200 hectares (500 acres) of woodland had been razed in Mau – East Africa’s largest indigenous forest.

KWS communications manager Paul Udoto told the BBC: “We now have to pump water from underground bore holes to shallow pans to water the animals in the park otherwise they will all die. This is costing us a lot of money.”

Members of communities opposed to government plans to move them out of the Mau forest are suspected, say police, and several people have been arrested, accused of arson.

Another blaze nearby has destroyed about a quarter of the 52 sq km (20 square miles) Mount Longonot National Park, an extinct volcano in Kenya’s Rift Valley, said officials.

Zebras, buffaloes, antelopes, gazelles and giraffes have fled the fires, crossing roads and residential areas to reach safety, said witnesses.

But some wildlife experts said snakes and smaller animals, like rabbits and mongooses, may not have managed to escape.

Kenya is suffering a drought this year that has contributed to hunger the government says is affecting 10 million people.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 23/03/2009

Human activity ‘triggers rise in Borneo forest fires’


Severe fires in Indonesia – responsible for some of the worst air quality conditions worldwide – are linked not only to drought, but also to changes in land use and population density, according to a new study in Nature Geoscience.

“During the late 1970s, Indonesian Borneo changed from being highly fire-resistant to highly fire-prone during drought years, marking the period when one of the world’s great tropical forests became one of the world’s largest sources of pollution,” said lead researcher Robert Field, a PhD student of atmospheric physics at the University of Toronto, Canada.

“Ultimately, this abrupt transition can be attributed to rapid increases in deforestation and population growth,” he explained.

“The resulting occurrences of haze currently rank among the world’s worst air pollution episodes, and are a singularly large source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Sumatra has suffered from large fires since at least the 1960s, but Indonesian Borneo seems to have been resistant to large fires, even in dry years, until population density and deforestation increased substantially and land use changed from small-scale subsistence agriculture to large-scale industrial agriculture and agro-forestry.

“We’ve had a good understanding of fire events since the mid 1990s, but little before this due to the absence of fire data from satellites,” said Mr Field.

“However, one of the major impacts of large-scale fires is a reduction in visibility due to the smoke produced.

“Visibility is recorded several times a day at airports in the region, and these records proved to be an excellent indicator of severe fire activity.

“We were able to piece together visibility observations back to the 1960s, and hence develop a longer term record of the fires.”

Having a long-term record of the fires allowed the scientists to better understand their causes.

“Using weather records, we were able to estimate the specific rainfall level below which large fires have occurred in the previous two decades,” Mr Field added.

“In turn, we found that the rainfall over Indonesia was influenced equally by the Indian Ocean Dipole and the El Nino Southern Oscillation phenomena.”

Mr Field concluded: “Hopefully, this information can be used to better anticipate and prevent future haze disasters in Indonesia.”

He said that there was a direct link between the increased prevalence of severe fires and haze disasters and the man-made change in land use.

“The visibility record also showed, quite strikingly, the impact of human settlement on a previously pristine tropical forest.

“This should give pause to further agro-forestry expansion in Indonesia, particularly for oil palm as a source of biofuel.”

Source: EurekAlert

Date: 22/02/2009

Indonesia favours palm oil over peatlands


The Indonesian government will allow developers to convert millions of hectares of land for oil palm plantations, reports Mongabay.com.

The decision threatens to undermine Indonesia’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land use and fashion itself as a leader on the environment among tropical countries.

Gatot Irianto, head of research and development for the Agriculture Ministry, said the department is drafting a decree that would allow the drainage and conversion of peatland areas into oil palm estates.

“We still need land for oil palm plantations,” he told the Jakarta Post during a conference organised by the National Commission on Climate Change.

“We’ve discussed the draft with stakeholders, including hard-line activists, to convince them that converting peatland is safe,” he added.

“We promise to promote eco-friendly management to ward off complaints from overseas buyers and international communities.”

Degradation and destruction of peatlands in Indonesia results in hundreds of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Generally, developers dig a canal to drain the land, extract valuable timber, before clearing the vegetation using fire.

In dry years these fires can burn for months, contributing to the “haze” that plagues south-east Asian with increasing frequency.

Fires in peatlands are especially persistent, since they can continue to smolder underground for years even after surface fires are extinguished by monsoon rains.

While burning releases enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, merely draining peatlands also contributes to global warming. Once exposed to air, the peat oxidises, leading to decomposition and the relsease of carbon dioxide.

A study led by UK researcher Dr Susan Page from the University of Leicester found that producing one tonne of palm oil on peatland resulted in the release of up to 70 tonnes over 25 years as a result of forest conversion, peat loss and emissions from slash-and-burn fires.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 15/02/2009

Amazon rainfall projections ‘underestimated’


Amazonian forests may be less vulnerable to dying off from global warming than feared because many projections underestimate rainfall, Reuters reports.

A study by UK researchers suggested that Brazil and other nations in the region would also have to act to help avert any irreversible drying of the eastern Amazon, the region most at risk from climate change, deforestation and fires.

“The rainfall regime in eastern Amazonia is likely to shift over the 21st Century in a direction that favours more seasonal forests rather than savannah,” the team write in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Seasonal forests have wet and dry seasons rather than the current rainforest, which is permanently drenched.

It is argued that this shift in precipitation patterns could result in the emergence of new species of trees, other plants and animals.

The findings challenge past projections that the Amazon forest could die and be replaced by savannah.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2007: “By mid-century, increases in temperature and associated decreases in soil water are projected to lead to gradual replacement of tropical forest by savannah in eastern Amazonia.”

The new study said that almost all of 19 global climate models underestimated rainfall in the world’s biggest tropical forest.

Lowland forests in the Amazon have annual average rainfall of 2,400 mm (94 inches), it said.

Projected cuts in rainfall meant the region would still be wet enough to sustain a forest.

The experts also examined field studies of how the Amazon might react to drying.

It said that seasonal forests would be more resilient to the occasional drought but more vulnerable to fires than the current rainforest.

“The fundamental way to minimise the risk of Amazon dieback is to control greenhouse gas emissions globally, particularly from fossil fuel combustion in the developed world and Asia,” said Yadvinder Malhi, the lead author from Oxford University.

But he said that governments led by Brazil also needed to improve their forest management policies.

Global warming is “accompanied by an unprecedented intensity of direct pressure on the tropical forests through logging, deforestation, fragmentation, and fire use,” the scientists wrote.

And fires, including those touched off by lightning, were more likely to cause wide damage to forests already fragmented by roads or by farmers clearing land to plant crops, such as soya beans.

Source: Reuters

Date: 09/02/2009

Lebanon’s forests fires ‘product of climate change’


Devastating fires caused by climate change are threatening forests in Lebanon, in turn accelerating the pace of global warming, an environmental activist has warned.

“We are witnessing a rise in temperature which leads to the dryness of forest soil and pushes it towards desertification,” Sawsan Bou Fakhreddine, director-general of the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation (AFDC), a local NGO, told the UN’s IRIN news service.

She added that the country was witnessing forest fires earlier in the season than usual.

“We noticed that fires are starting in April, three months earlier than the usual season, which commences in June or July.

“With the ongoing increase in temperature, the land is losing much of its humidity and trees are becoming drier. This causes severe fires that are difficult to suppress.”

Ms Fakhreddine said, on average, about 1,500 hectares of woodland were affected by fires annually, yet more than 4,000 hectares of forests were ravaged in 2007 – the worst fires to hit Lebanon for decades.

“In one day we lost three times what we planted in 17 years,” she observed.

According to AFDC, forests covered 35 percent of Lebanon in 1965, but that figure had fallen to 13 percent in 2007.

Ms Fakhreddine warned: “If we witness fires like the ones that erupted last year, Lebanon will lose its forests completely in 15 to 20 years.”

Source: IRIN

Date: 25/09/2008

Clearing ‘doubles Borneo’s forest fires’


The number of forest fires on Indonesian Borneo has nearly doubled due to land clearing amid fears that hazy skies could return to the region, news agency AFP reports Indonesian official as saying.

Forest fires from Indonesia caused by traditional farming methods have been blamed for the choking haze that shrouds the region each year during the dry season.

“Our latest data shows that the number of hot spots on Kalimantan island has nearly doubled,” Israr Albar, a forestry ministry official monitoring the forest fires via satellite, told AFP.

He said that some 217 hot spots recorded on Borneo were from land clearing in West Kalimantan province, compared with 122 recorded a day earlier.

The number of hot spots on the islands of Sumatra had decreased slightly to 423 from 557, he added.

Haze from the fires resulted in air pollution levels to above official health limits in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore.

Experts warn that the haze contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions and could contribute to human-induced climate change.

Source: AFP

Date: 06/08/2008

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