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

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