Biodiversity loss, emission of huge quantities of carbon dioxide and increasing poverty require immediate action. Some facts:
- Globally, peatlands store 528,000 Mt of carbon, equivalent to 75% of all carbon in the atmoshphere or 70 times current annual global emissions from fossil fuel burning. Still, their carbon stock is around 75% of all carbon stored in the extensive world.
- Currently, peatland degradation causes annually 3000 Mt CO2 emissions, an amount equal to 11% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
- Greenhouse gas emissions as a result of the continuing peatlands degradation in South-east Asia amounts to an average 2000 million tons of CO2 per year, over 90% of which comes from Indonesia. 1400 Mt/yr is coming from Indonesian peat fires alone. The emissions caused by decomposition of drained peatlands amounts to 632 Mt/yr. This is equal to 8% of all global CO2 emissions. Central Kalimantan is one of the main areas causing this problem; Central Kalimantan contains with 30,000 km2 around 13,5% of Indonesian peatlands with an average depth of 3 metres. One fifth of the province is peatland.
- 83% of the SE Asian peatlands are in Indonesia and 12% of Indonesia is covered by peatlands (225,000 km2). Peatland thickness in Indonesia ranges from 1 meter to over 1 meters. 1 meter stores 60 tonnes carbon. About 42,000 megatoness carbon are stored in SE Asian peatlands In a ranking of countries based on their total CO2 emissions, Indonesia comes 21st if peatland emissions are excluded. However, if peatland emissions are included, Indonesia is already the third-largest CO2 producer in the world. Indonesia emits 5 times as much CO2 from degraded peatlands as it does by burning fuels every year.
- In 1997/98 fires in the degraded peat swamp areas of Indonesia affected 1.5-2.2 million hectares of peatland and forests. These fires contributed 15-40 % of that year's global CO2 emission. This is comparable to the current annual emissions of the USA. Peatfires are not an incidence. Huge fires occur every year. It should be noted that CO2 emissions in South East Asia will continue even if fires can be prevented and stopped. The oxidation of the current desiccated topsoil results on average in annual emissions of 65 tonnes of CO2 per hectare. Currently, millions of hectares of peatlands are drained and are decomposing. This is especially the case in Indonesia and Malaysia.
- Globally threatened species are lost by the peatland destruction (like Urang Utan, but also less know species)
- About 30 percent of the children in Kalimantan below five years suffer from respiratory diseases and linked growth inhibition.
- Decomposition of the peat lowers the land surface with on average 10% of the drainage depth; often around 10 centimeters a year. Within roughly 20 years, many areas have subsided so much that these will be inundated in the wet season. Further drainage will be impossible.
- Currently about 25% of the Indonesian oil palm estates are on peatlands, totaling 1,5 mln hectares. This is leading to emissions of around 150 mln tonnes CO2. Indonesia is planning to expand their palm oil plantations with another 6 mln hectares in the coming 20 years of which 50% are currently planned on tropical peatlands. Malaysia has 8% of their 4.24 mln hectares palm oil plantations on peat; leading to emissions of 33 mln tonnes CO2 a year.
These figures are based on a study of Delft Hydraulics in cooperation with Wetlands International and Alterra. Download this study for free (adobe pdf 7.0).